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Palestine, Pride and Pinkwashing: Gayness as a Justification for Oppression?

Content Warning: Homophobia - Harassment/violence against LGBTQ people mentioned.

Writer: Anika Nawar Vuiya

Edited By: Abigail Goh and Nadya Soetomo


I came out as bisexual when I was 18 — following a very drunken and unforeseen tryst with my best friend. I found myself at an age and in a place where I was free to explore my sexuality, so I haphazardly attended queer events, kissed pretty girls at my local watering hole, and danced with long-haired strangers in sweaty clubs. At 18, I didn’t think much about my privilege as a New Yorker; I was free from constant fear and discrimination.

My open display of queerness and relative sense of security would be impossible without the 1969 Stonewall Uprising – during which a frenzy of weary, gay patrons revolted against unrelenting and invasive police harassment and violence at the Stonewall Inn, a gay hotspot in Lower Manhattan. The Stonewall Uprising ignited the American gay rights movement and caused a Pride March in New York City on the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. Pride is meant to honour our history.

It symbolises revolution and resistance against state violence, self-determination of our identities, the ongoing fight for human rights, and the commemoration of our predecessors.

Weaponising gay rights to legitimise and condone a nation that symbolises oppression and state violence, and erasure (genocide) of indigenous peoples and their identities is antithetical to everything queerness stands for. For the last 15 years, in addition to the American funding, Israel has pinkwashed its occupation and apartheid in Palestine. “Pinkwashing is a term used to describe the action of using gay-related issues in positive ways in order to distract attention from negative actions by an organisation, country or government. Pinkwashing has been linked to Israel’s strategically curated and disseminated propaganda campaign to project an image of a progressive Israeli nation by exploiting gayness. By projecting itself as a gay-friendly nation, Israel describes itself as an epicentre of gay rights as well as an ‘ideal gay holiday destination’. Pinkwashing is a deliberate effort on part of the Israeli government to distract the international community from the plights of Palestinians, the ongoing occupation of Palestine, and the daily genocide and displacement of Palestinians.

Here, Israel furthers an idea of fundamental differences between Israelis and Palestinians — “...a common narrative passed down from the rhetoric of colonial-era scholars that depicts Muslim and Arab communities as ‘backwards’, which provides ‘legitimacy’ for Western interference and imperialism”. Pinkwashing propagates a false duality between the ‘democratic’ and ‘gay-friendly’ modern Israeli state, and the ‘uncivilised’, ‘homophobic’ Palestinians. Of course, the Palestinians persecute homosexuals, and the Israelis protect them from their persecutors. About being both lesbian and Palestinian, Palestinian activist, Ghadir Shafie, writes:

In their world of alleged ‘freedoms’ and rights, there was no place for my Palestinian-ness. I had to choose between being ‘gay’ and being Palestinian but giving up a part of myself was impossible to bear […] I started associating lesbianism with ‘Jewishness,’ or even ‘Zionism,’ in opposition to being Palestinian. It took me years to be able to reconcile my same-sex desires and my Palestinianness […] Pinkwashing [maintains a depiction of] Palestinians in order to better justify oppression and unequal treatment of them, and its internal vicious cycle tokenizes ‘gay’ Palestinians.

How, then, can we expect Palestinians to divorce their queerness from their most fundamental and tangible identity?

During my time in Tel Aviv, I also faced a similar decision. My scantily modest appearance and overwhelmingly American speech were somehow perplexing to others — not to mention my Muslim background. Taxi drivers, dates, shop-owners, bartenders – almost everyone – would discover my Muslim upbringing and immediately follow-up with a query on ‘my views’ about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. But it was much less a question and more so a gateway to vocalising their own opinions. Time and time again, I am told that I’m not “the kind of Muslim like the Palestinians are because [I’m] one of the good ones”. I am told that as a reasonable and ‘modern Muslim’, I must clearly recognise Israel’s dilemma. Surely, I would see the choice between a safe, secure Israel and fighting back against the terrorist Muslim-Palestinians was an easy one every time. Surely, someone like me would instinctively support the ‘progressive’ Israeli state and condemn the ‘backwards’ Palestinians out of the idea that they would never accept me as I am.

In each of these interactions, the distinction between Palestinian and Muslim is nonexistent. They are treated synonymously, often with a variation of the word ‘terrorism’ thrown into the mix. Being ‘one of the good Muslims’ required that I isolate any part of me that could relate back to Palestine because merely coming from a Muslim background meant that there was potential for me to support the Palestinian cause. But my appearance signified that I was ‘progressive and modern’, so there just had to be a possibility that I wouldn’t support people who would obviously reject me and my lifestyle. It was an active effort to make me associate my identity and behaviour as more in line with a ‘shiny’, modern version of Zionism than with the intolerant, ‘barbaric’ Muslims/Palestinians.

Naturally, all of their efforts were fruitless from the start. Whether I am accepted as a ‘good Muslim’ or not by either side is irrelevant to my belief in Palestinian self-determination. I was, I am, and I will always be in full support of Palestine and its people. No pretty portraits of a progressive society could ever persuade me otherwise because every day, I watch Palestinians with rocks revolt and resist against the fourth most militarised country in the world (See: human toll of Israeli occupation). I witness how the Palestinian diaspora preserves its culture and sustains its unbreakable spirit of self-determination. I observe their interminable devotion to their ancestral homeland. I see how they commemorate their ancestors, hold days of remembrance, and mourn their murdered loved ones.

There is no better time than Pride Month to actively denounce Zionism for the sake of all Palestinians – not only our queer counterparts. Rocks thrown at the New York Police Department. Rocks thrown at the Israel Defence Forces. Our fight for gay rights is no different than the Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation, violence, and displacement.

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