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The PA scapegoated our LGBTQ+ community but it can't stop our progress

Space is opening up in Palestine to discuss gender and queer issues. The Palestinian Authority's attempt to shut one conversation down was purely political and won't work

Once again, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is jumping on an easy target to distract from its utter failure to govern or deliver any achievements on the ground. This time, it's attacking the Palestinian LGBTQ+ community and using us as a pawn in its game of poorly played political chess. 

On 17 August, the PA police spokesperson, Louai Izreqat, announced a ban on activities in the occupied West Bank organised by al-Qaws, a local rights organisation working for Palestinian gender and sexual diversity. The statement was issued after al-Qaws had publicised a discussion-based event they had held in the city of Nablus on 4 August. 

The PA is using our community to gain popularity by playing the 'morality police' card

It was the first time that the PA police publicly acknowledged al-Qaws, which means rainbow in Arabic.

Izreqat's statement, which was published online and has since been removed, described the group and those affiliated with it as "foreign agents" against "traditional Palestinian values". 

Izreqat's statement went as far as to call for the persecution of al-Qaws staff and activists and for Palestinian citizens to file complaints against any "suspicious activities". 

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After his announcement, a plethora of comments calling for violence against the LGBTQ+ community were posted on both the police spokesperson's statement on Facebook and on al-Qaws' page

Although the police withdrew their statement, they are still chasing al-Qaws and its activists along with several local organisations that work on issues related to sexuality education and bodily rights, even if they don't work on queer issues. The PA has asked to meet with board members of these organisations and advised them to remove al-Qaws from their websites.

The PA is using our community to gain some popularity by playing the "morality police" card. It is bankrupt and finds itself in a corner, without any achievements to show for Palestinian freedom, and under political pressure amplified by Trump's repugnant "deal of the century," its future is unclear and unstable. 

The PA is trying to show that it is still useful and relevant, and that it is needed to "protect" Palestinian society both morally and socially. It wants to be able to send a message saying: "We are protecting the people from corruption" or "We are protecting society against being infiltrated and ruined by homosexuals and agents of the West."

In the end, what the PA, through its police, managed to do, is deter a much-needed conversation about sexual and bodily rights in Palestine. It not only failed to protect us from death threats and serious threats of sexual violence, it not only failed to condemn these threats as illegal and egregious, but even worse, it also gave the green light to homophobes to violently, personally and individually target members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Between PA police and Israeli trolls

After Izreqat's statement was issued, al-Qaws put out its own statement, saying it was facing an attack on its social media pages in the form of violent comments. There were very clear and direct threats of rape and sexual violence posted both on the al-Qaws page and also on the social media accounts of well-known local personalities, including activists, journalists and even former political prisoners.

The national duty of the police is to protect the people. Instead, they are going after activists who are simply opening up a discussion

The national duty of the police is to protect the people. Instead, they are going after activists who are simply opening up a discussion, while inciting others to commit - or at least threaten to commit - acts of violence with its own statement.

Over the past two years, the PA has been tightening the noose around activists and rights-based organisations and movements, including those focused on human rights, and political and social issues. The PA's attack on al-Qaws is part and parcel of this systematic persecution of rights groups. 

To top it off, Israeli trolls and others seized the opportunity to gain politically by framing Palestinians as barbarians who can't accept the LGBTQ+ community and Israel as a gay haven compared to Palestinian society, now that our police are actively silencing and chasing queer activists.

Al-Qaws is an easy target: it works on sexual and bodily rights and gender diversity in Palestine, which are all topics that are still considered taboo in our society. Therefore, when the PA targets an organisation like al-Qaws, they find a lot of validation and support from the self-appointed protectors of "ethics and morality" in the public. 

Since its inception, Israel has been the number one oppressor of Palestinians of all political, sexual, and social backgrounds. Opposition to the PA's homophobia is at best cynical hypocrisy, if not rooted in Israel's system of racial apartheid, ongoing land theft and military occupation.

Progressive change

The issue here is not exclusive to Palestinian society. We are not uniquely "backwards" as Western and Israeli media portray us. Every society goes through its own journey and process on social issues which can take years of discussion and debate.

The truth is that the LGBTQ+ discussion is ongoing worldwide. It's not something that has ended and the struggle for queer liberation is ongoing in many places, not just in Palestine.  

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In Palestine, this conversation was put on the backburner for decades as we deal with colonialism and ongoing military occupation. Until just recently, we never had the opportunity to address LGBTQ+ in the public sphere. But now we are, and it's a healthy, significant conversation that we should have the space to pursue.

As differences and diversity, sexual and otherwise, become more visible in our society, these issues will garner attention and, of course, some people will be up in arms. At the same time, space is opening up for discussion. This makes the PA's silencing of queer activists pushing for these conversations all the more damaging.

Yet the social backlash caused by its outrageous position is not unique to any equality and rights movements anywhere in the world. No movement has been able to achieve anything without going against and challenging their society internally. 

The queer movement will continue to grow, and the community in Palestine and elsewhere is not going to disappear; the more visibility, the more of a backlash we’ll experience. This is part of the process of fighting to create a just and dignified society.

As long as the groundwork continues, these conversations will come to have more room in the public sphere, and people will get used to hearing them, and eventually engage with them constructively. After that, we'll have honest internal discussions and build a movement for equality that no one will be able to stop.

Falastine Saleh is a feminist, writer and BDS advocate living in Ramallah, Palestine
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