For Palestine, against homophobia

Submitted by AWL on 16 June, 2004 - 11:30

Peter Tatchell deplores much of the left's failure to speak out against the torture and murder of queers by the Palestinian authorities.
Are we witnessing a revival of old-style 1970s far left homophobia? It seems so. Diverse sections of the radical left - including individual members of the SWP, Respect and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) - are questioning the right of the queer activist group OutRage! to fight back against the officially-sanctioned persecution of queers in the Palestinian-controlled areas of Gaza and the West Bank.

According to the PSC, OutRage! is "attempting to defame" the Palestine solidarity movement and is "damaging the cause of solidarity with Palestinians".

Members of OutRage! joined the PSC demonstration in London on 15 May, supporting an end to Israel's human rights abuses of the Palestinian people.

Contrary to claims by the PSC, we did not stage a "counter-demonstration". We were there in solidarity with the Palestine liberation struggle. Our placards said, "Israel: Stop persecuting Palestine".

But we also called for an end to the torture and murder of lesbians and gays by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Our placards additionally read, "Palestine: Stop persecuting queers".

It was never our intention to disrupt the PSC rally or create a commotion.

We had a small, low-key presence. Our aim was to raise awareness. We wanted to alert supporters of Palestine, in the hope they would help us pressure the Palestinian leadership to halt its oppression of queers.

What turned a minor presence into a major incident was the aggressive response of the PSC organisers and stewards. They surrounded us, ordering us to the back of the demonstration. When we refused, they blocked out our placards with their own, obscuring our message. PSC officials also shouted us down, preventing us talking with journalists and other protesters who wanted to find out more about the suffering of queers in Palestine.

The PSC now denies this intimidation and censorship took place. But it was filmed by a Channel 4 documentary maker, Darren Lewey, and photographed by four professionals, including the respected left-wing and pro-Palestine photographer Paul Mattsson. They all corroborate OutRage!'s version of events.

In a bid to deflect criticism, the PSC has issued a statement saying it opposes homophobia. Fine words. But what has it actually done to challenge the violent homophobia of the PLO, Hamas and PA? I wrote to the PSC nine years ago, asking them to urge the PLO to stop killing queers. The PSC did nothing. I emailed the PSC office four weeks ago requesting dialogue. They never replied.

The PSC accuses OutRage! of damaging solidarity with the Palestinians.

You heard correct. The PSC blames the people who defend the victims, and lets the oppressors off the hook.

In reality it is the PLO's and PA's homophobia that is damaging solidarity, by dividing gays and straights - both here and in Palestine.

While the PSC ignores the persecution of Palestinian queers and their pleas for help, OutRage! does not. We heard their appeals for solidarity and acted.

Astonishingly, the PSC has said nothing about PLO and PA violence against lesbians and gays. It offers not a word of sympathy to the victims of Palestinian homophobia, and makes no offer to raise the issue with the Palestinian authorities. The PSC is in deep denial.

Yet again we seem to have a so-called progressive movement implying that queer lives are expendable for the sake of the greater good of a revolutionary struggle.

There is no doubt that Palestinian queers are the victims of barbaric homophobic violence. This is confirmed by the independent Israeli human rights groups B'Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights, and by the Israeli gay organisations, Aguda and Open House.

Two senior PLO officials have admitted to me privately that the arrest and abuse of queers is sanctioned by the Palestinian leadership. Officially, the PLO refuses to discuss the matter. I have tried several times over the last 20 years to quietly and diplomatically raise this issue with PLO leaders.

They have rejected all overtures and attempts at dialogue. That is why OutRage! had to protest. To do nothing would be collusion with homophobic tyranny.

The PSC implies that OutRage! has no right to campaign in solidarity with Palestinian queers, arguing that "Palestinian lesbians and gay men must be allowed to determine for themselves how they wage that struggle". We agree.

That is why Outrage!, unlike the PSC, is not ignoring their desperate pleas for help. They have asked for solidarity and we are showing it, which is more than can be said of the PSC.

I have supported the Palestinian struggle for national liberation for 30-plus years. Freedom for Palestine must be freedom for everyone - straight and gay. Unless we challenge the abuse of queer human rights now, homophobia will become entrenched in a new Palestinian state. If the PLO and PA get away with persecuting queers, perhaps they will be emboldened to trample on the rights of other Palestinians too. Pressuring them to respect queer rights will surely help create a stronger human rights culture and that will benefit all Palestinians.

OutRage! values the work of the PSC. We will continue to support its efforts to help secure a free Palestine. We hope that in return the PSC will work with us to pressure the PLO, Hamas and the PA to abandon their homophobia and create a truly liberated nation based on human rights for all.

Peter Tatchell OutRage!

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