Basic facts about LGBT life in the Middle East — and Israel


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Basic facts about LGBT life in the Middle East — and Israel

This will be a bullet-point summary, possibly with the video overview of Tel Aviv Pride event.  TBD by Brooke and Amanda.  The following is a suggested starting point:

  • Israel is the only nation in the Middle East in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are able to live in freedom, openly, and are under the protection of law.
  • LGBT people serve openly in the Israeli military, police force and all government agencies, and are able to fully participate in all aspects of society.
  • The annual Tel Aviv Pride festival is one of the largest LGBT events in the world.
  • All other nations in the Middle East have enacted laws against LGBT people (justified under shariah, the Islamic code), with penalties ranging from fines, to imprisonment, to execution.
  • All other nations in the Middle East operate according to cultural norms that encourage LGBT people to be harassed, tormented, ostracized, causing them to live in hiding, and chronic fear of being discovered.
  • LGBT people have found refuge, safety and joy in Israel, and are becoming increasingly  vocal [LINK TO NEWS ABOUT LGBT] about their experiences, and gratitude to the Jewish state for being an oasis of tolerance, inclusiveness and diversity in the Middle East.
  • Despite these facts, incendiary lies are constantly being spread about Israel, most often by those with direct or secondary linkage to the LGBT-oppressing nations in the region that have openly declared their intention to destroy it.

It’s time for people who know the truth, and support LGBT equality, inclusion and protection, to stand with Israel, and to help combat the lies.

Please share the link to this site, and write to us here, if you’d like to learn how to help our efforts.

“Tel Aviv Gay Pride: Official Aftermovie” (2:48): One of the largest gay pride festivals in the world is held in downtown Tel Aviv.

“Israel: Gay Oasis” (6:13): “We came to Israel from one of Americas most progressive and accepting cities, San Francisco. In search of common ground, we decided to look at Israel through the lens of the gay community. All we really had starting out was a BlueStar postcard telling us that gay Israelis could serve in the army, a right still not enjoyed by our fellow Americans. The question was, how does a country so wrapped up in religion and conflict exceed our relatively peaceful and secular nation in terms of gay rights?. What kind of gay community has grown up in Israel in the last sixty years? And where will it lead? We found that Israels gay community has fought at least as hard as ours to secure its rights. And that even a nation surrounded by enemies can find a place for every one of its citizens to belong.”

(2) News

Tel Aviv Declared World’s Best Gay Travel Destination, by Haaretz, Jan 11, 2012.  Excerpt:

In a world-wide survey hosted GayCities.com and American Airlines, 43 percent of voters cast their ballot in favor of the White City, pushing it ahead of other proud towns including New York, Toronto and London.

Israel’s LGBT community has a reason to be proud: It has officially been proclaimed the best gay travel destination of 2011.  In a world-wide survey conducted by GayCities.com and American Airlines, 43 percent of voters cast their ballot in favor of the White City, followed by New York City with 14 per cent, Toronto with 7 per cent, Sao Paulo with 6 per cent, Madrid and London with 5 per
cent each and New Orleans and Mexico City with 4 per cent each.

200,000 party at Israel Gay Pride Parade, region’s biggest, by Chicago Tribune, June 3, 2016. Excerpt:

Colorfully-dressed drag queens and bare-chested muscular men on floats partied alongside thousands of others from the LGBT community at Tel Aviv’s annual gay pride parade on Friday, the largest event of its kind in the Middle East.

Israeli media reported that 200,000 people joined the festivities. “The sun is out and everybody is partying and having fun, the atmosphere is great,” said Christian Tummann, a German tourist celebrating with his husband.

“I feel so happy, so happy, that I can go to the Middle East and still be proud, it’s very nice,” said Swedish tourist Dona Ulzen.

West Bank, Gaza no haven for LGBT Palestinians, by Christopher Scott McCannell, Washington Blade, July 9, 2015. Excerpt:

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray visited the only Democratic state in the Middle East and the only one that protects the rights of all minorities, including gay and lesbian citizens. His visit to Israel as well as time spent in the West Bank, where he experienced firsthand the challenges facing the Israeli and the Palestinian populations is one that is often taken by American elected officials to understand the daily security threats the Israeli people endure. As the Syrian war continues to rage on at Israel’s northern border and the threat of ISIS grows throughout the Middle East, Israel’s strong and vibrant democracy is needed more than ever.

While in Tel Aviv, Mayor Murray spoke at a conference marking the 40th anniversary of Tel Aviv Pride, which reflected the accomplishments and continuing work that Israel needs to do to achieve true equality. This conference was hosted by the U.S.-based NGO A Wider Bridge, which promotes LGBT support for Israel and the Agudah, Israel’s version of the Human Rights Campaign. Israel’s record on LGBT issues has been one of the strong hallmarks of a democratic and civil society and includes being one of the first countries to allow gays to serve openly in the military, allowing equality at workplaces and recognizing same sex marriages performed outside of Israel. Tel Aviv’s vibrant gay community is known for its 150,000 strong Pride march as well as a vibrant LGBT center supported by politicians of all stripes.

For Gay Palestinians, Tel Aviv Is Mecca, by Kathleen Peratis, The Forward, February 24, 2006. Excerpt:

Arab human rights organizations sometimes advocate for gay rights, but they do so sotto voce. In fact, the only country in the Middle East in which gay people may safely leave the closet is Israel. Which is why, for gay Palestinians, Tel Aviv is Mecca.

Gay Palestinian men flee to Israel because they are not safe in the West Bank and Gaza. They also have no place else to go.

“Israel is close and far at the same time,” says Haneen Maikey, a gay rights activist with Jerusalem Open House, one of the principal gay rights organizations in Israel. If the sexuality of a gay man in Palestine is exposed, his family might torture or kill him and the police will turn a blind eye.

Because they are so vulnerable to blackmail, it is assumed by the families and neighbors of gay Palestinian men — sometimes correctly — that they have been blackmailed into becoming informers, either for Israeli intelligence or for opposition Palestinian factions. So when they meet a violent end, the motivation of the killers is not entirely clear.

Hiding Out: Gay Palestinians In Israel: The ‘Invisible Men’; On the run from their Palestinian families, living illegally in Israel—treated by both sides as the enemy—gays from the Palestinian territories can’t go home again, by Itay Hod, The Daily Beast, August 13, 2014.  Excerpt:

It’s a dreary day in Norway despite it being the middle of summer. “It hasn’t stopped raining,” [Abdul Rawashda, a 27-year-old Palestinian from Hebron] said, covering himself with a thick blanket. “I’ll never get used to this weather.” From his balcony overlooking the American embassy hangs a Palestinian flag. “I want them to see it every morning when they come in,” he laughs.

It’s a far cry from his hometown in the West Bank, the place he was forced to flee. “I’m happy,” he said. “I love Norway. I have Norwegian citizenship now. I can go anywhere in the world.” Then, he pauses, realizing the irony in his last words. “Except home, of course.”

On January 26, 2010, Rawashda was picked up by the Palestinian secret police in the middle of the night. Cops had gone through his friend’s cellphone, where they found text messages sent from Rawashda that made it clear they were both gay. Next thing he knew, he was in an interrogation room being accused of collaborating with Israel. “I’d never even been to Israel before. But anyone who’s gay is immediately accused of spying for the enemy.”

For the next 16 hours, Rawashda was brutally beaten and tortured. Twelve thugs in uniform dunked his head in a toilet, trying to get him to sign a confession. “It was the worst night of my life. I don’t like talking about it.” When Rawashda refused, they picked up the phone, at 5 a.m., called his dad and told him his son was gay.

“They knew it was my biggest fear. They wanted to punish me.” His mom told him over the phone not to return home because his father and brother were going to come after him. “I had ‘dishonored’ the family.”

With the help of some friends, Rawashda escaped to Jordan, then Israel. He was in awe of Tel Aviv, a gay-friendly city with Pride parades rivaling those in Berlin and Amsterdam. As we chat about his life in Israel, Rawashda tells me to pan the camera so he could see the street behind me. “How is Tel Aviv?” he asks. “I miss it.”

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