When discussing the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the concept of pinkwashing is one that is rarely mentioned. Pinkwashing occurs when supporters of Israel attempt to deflect attention from Israel’s human rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories by pointing out the favourable treatment of the minority LGBT community in Israel, the aim being to perpetuate the image that Israel is a modern democratic state that does not carry out human rights abuses. However, it seems that the equality and protection that Israel offers to LGBT Israelis does not extend to LGBT Palestinians. Although it can be argued that Israel is not obliged to provide sanctuary to citizens of states that the country is in conflict with, other international law experts state that Israel is failing to uphold its responsibilities to LGBT asylum seekers.
Although a relatively small community, LGBT Palestinians are in a more vulnerable position than their heterosexual counterparts. While homosexuality is not illegal in the Palestinian Territories, it is generally considered to be culturally unacceptable. According to a 2008 report, gay Palestinian men had been tortured and abused by Palestinian Authority police in the pre-Second Intifada period. This torture took various forms: beatings, immersion in dirty water, sexual assaults and death threats. After the Intifada however, these attacks tended to be carried out by gangs and private militias. It has also been pointed out that the Palestinian community is very tight-knit and thus it is harder for members of the LGBT community to live discreetly there or even to find potential partners.
As a consequence of this climate of fear and non-acceptance, many LGBT Palestinians choose to leave the Territories. This is not a simple solution as the LGBT community generally does not enjoy widespread acceptance in neighbouring Middle Eastern countries. While it would be most logical for LGBT Palestinians to migrate to their neighbouring state Israel, since 1993 Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories are forbidden to enter Israel, and the building of the Separation Wall has impeded attempts to enter illegally. As Palestinians are not allowed to immigrate to Israel, their only option to live there legally is to seek asylum.
According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, Israel has a legal responsibility to assess claims of asylum made on the basis of the claimant’s sexuality, as this claim falls into the category of ‘membership of a particular social group’. Israel has signed and ratified the Convention, which also defines a refugee as “any person who …owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” Israel has also signed the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which forbids the return of an asylum seeker to a territory where he or she may be at risk of torture. In addition, the Refugee Convention prohibits states from discriminating against asylum seekers on the basis of their race, religion or place of origin, meaning that Israel should not be able to turn away LGBT Palestinians purely because of their nationality. Finally, Israel has previously granted asylum to a homosexual male from an Asian country on the basis of his sexuality, proving that Israel is aware of its obligations.
LGBT Palestinians fit in to these categories and are therefore entitled to seek asylum in Israel. Nevertheless, just ten LGBT Palestinians have received asylum there, and only through applying directly to UNHCR headquarters in Geneva. According to sources, there are approximately 2000 LGBT Palestinians living illegally in Tel Aviv and only 60 have received help from the Israeli state over the last few years. These people live a precarious existence: Israelis are forbidden from offering shelter to anyone who is in the country illegally and it is getting progressively harder to find work on the black market. By applying for asylum however, Palestinians put themselves at risk of being deported immediately- although the Israeli government should not be legally allowed to do this until the asylum seeker’s claim has been assessed, there is sufficient anecdotal evidence of deportations occurring to make this a genuine fear. Even if a LGBT Palestinian successfully receives asylum, the majority of these individuals are ostracised by their friends and family back home as it is often assumed they have spied for Israel in order to earn this right to stay there). These individuals will also be at risk of violence should they return to the West Bank or Gaza after making these asylum claims.
It could be argued that Israel is exempt from offering asylum to LGBT Palestinians due to the ongoing conflict but the basic principles of humanitarianism render this argument defunct. Whilst there are provisions in the Refugee Convention that allow states to protect their sovereignty and their security, Israel’s policy of denying asylum to LGBT Palestinians on the basis of their nationality is both discriminatory and illegal- Palestinians are even prohibited from submitting applications to the agency in charge, the National Status Granting Board. While there a few other ways for Palestinians to come to Israel, such as applying for a work permit or joining an Israeli partner, these are also difficult processes with little guarantee of success. In addition, recent changes to the law have declared that if there is an applicant whose family member poses a threat to Israeli security, then that application can be refused. The state has also argued that a blanket ban on Palestinians entering Israel is more effective for security than individual screening as an individual who, even if they do not pose a security threat at time of application, may later be recruited by opposing forces.
Israel markets itself as state where equality is paramount- if you take a tour of the Knesset (Israeli parliament), they point out how every sector of Israeli society is represented there. However, being a stable democratic state comes with certain responsibilities and until Israel recognises its obligations to at least assess the asylum claims of LGBT Palestinians in a fair and transparent manner, can it really continue to proclaim that political equality exists there?
For more information, visit the Al-Qaws (a LGBT Palestinian support group) webpage: http://alqaws.org/q/content/palestinian-lgbtq-community
The author is a MA International Graduate who is currently working for a human rights NGO in the Middle East.
Written by A.N.S. and published on 06-June-2014