Palestinian police vow crackdown on LGBTQ events in West Bank

Palestinian police have threatened to arrest anyone involved in an upcoming gathering planned by LGBTQ activists in the northern West Bank town of Nablus.
By Alex Cooper

Palestinian police have banned events organized by the LGBTQ rights organization alQaws because they go against “traditional Palestinian values,” the rights group said in a statement Sunday.

The organization condemned the ban and recent attacks on LGBTQ Palestinians, including the reported stabbing of a 16-year-old outside an LGBTQ youth shelter in Tel Aviv.

“AlQaws condemns the use of prosecution, intimidation and threats of arrest, be it by the police or members of society,” the group wrote on Facebook. “We have always been public and accessible about our work, through maintaining an active website, social media presence and engagement in civil society. However, we have never received threats to this extent before.”

AlQaws for Sexual & Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society emerged as a project in 2001 and formalized in 2007, according to its website. As part of the group’s work, it regularly holds events throughout Palestinian territories and offers support for LGBTQ people through hotlines and partnerships with other civil rights groups.

The statement from the Palestinian police announcing the ban came after alQaws held an event in Nablus, a city in the northern West Bank, in early August. The organization had plans to hold another event there at the end of the month.

Police said Sunday they would "pursue this gathering" and seek charges against anyone involved in it, according to The Associated Press. The Palestinian police are under the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

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Word of the gathering had sparked fierce debate on social media, with some Palestinians defending the activists and others condemning them for violating religious and traditional norms.

“We have never received threats to this extent before,” alQaws said in its Facebook statement. However, it acknowledged that the “crackdown against the fight for sexual and gender liberation is not new.”

“Throughout modern history, it has served as a powerful card for oppressive regimes and governments,” the group stated. “Sadly, the PA statement and subsequent public responses are well-honed tactics in the game of political gain and smoke-screening, not limited to the Palestinian Authority or to this particular event.”

Despite the crackdown, however, the alQaws said it will continue to work to combat the “social violence against LGBT Palestinians.”

Neither alQaws nor the Palestinian police immediately responded to NBC News’ request for comment.

Sa’ed Atshan, an assistant professor of peace and conflict studies at Swarthmore College and author of “Queer Palestine and the Empire of Critique,” said the Palestinian police's statement about alQaws is an attempt to “score morality points.”

By focusing on LGBTQ people, Atshan told NBC News, the Palestinian Authority can distract everyday Palestinians away from "its impotence in the face of the occupation."

Being openly LGBTQ in Palestine, though, isn’t easy regardless, according to Atshan. He said unless you’re from a wealthy or secular family or live in a city, it can be difficult being out.

“While increasing numbers of LGB Palestinians are identifying as such, and slowly trans folks in Palestine are coming out, it is still tremendously difficult to live one’s life authentically, particularly as a trans person,” he explained.

Atshan also noted there seems to be an increase in anti-LGBTQ public expressions in Palestinian territories.

“This is a serious problem in our society,” he said, “and we have not grappled with the long-entrenched and ingrained homophobia in our society in a serious or robust, large-scale manner yet.”

And authorities seem to be leading the charge.

“The Palestinian Authority's police have also been inciting surveillance and violence against LGBTQ Palestinians from their own families, neighbors and co-workers, with a spike now in social media posts calling for assaults against queer people in the West Bank,” Atshan explained.

Homosexuality is taboo in Arab countries, many of which criminalize it. Approximately 70 countries around the world — most in Africa and the Mideast — criminalize homosexuality.

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