Palestinian Queers for BDS: A Struggle Against Israel’s Colonization, Occupation and Apartheid

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Palestinian Queers for BDS (PQBDS) is a newly launched group of Palestinian queer activists who live in the Palestinian Occupied Territory and inside Israel, who came together to promote and stand for the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, that was launched in July 2005. Four days after PQBDS’ first public statement, Bekhsoos got a chance to interview the team behind this long-awaited initiative.

What’s the story behind Palestinian Queers for BDS (PQbds)? What made you decide to launch this initiative?

Political questions were always an integral part of the wider Palestinian queer discourse. The “independent” Palestinian queer movement began, in a sense, as a reaction to political circumstances, to the local and international contexts, and from a need to express our identities. Some activists would say that the Palestinian queer community organized itself on the basis of “identity politics” and that now it is a question of how we are going to use our identities and struggle to challenge the current political struggle and to take a proactive role in responding to local political initiatives. At the same time, BDS has been a hot topic on the international Queer level, and as Palestinian Queers we felt that it is our responsibility to lead this discourse and encourage more queers to join the movement. PQbds is an initiative that can address these needs, and at the same time, it would be a more flexible alternative platform that would focus on this much needed primary task.

This is the first time that we hear Palestinian queers from the Palestinian Occupied Territory and inside Israel publicly speaking in alignment with the BDS campaign (which has been launched since 2005) – my question is why now?

Yes true, this is the first time queers living in the Palestinian Occupied Territory and inside Israel speak publicly and take a clear stance on the BDS campaign. It is important to mention though that discussions around BDS were and are still taking place in different frameworks of our community. Furthermore, the civil society BDS call, launched in 2005, is older than organized Palestinian queer communities. By the time we established our work, the BDS campaign had gained wider local and international legitimacy. We do not feel that this step could have been taken at an earlier stage. Furthermore, the past 3 years have witnessed a turning point in our community-building and in our efforts for social change. The Palestinian queer community now has enough resources to engage with different discourses and to use different strategies to bring the sexual and gender struggle to the forefront. Furthermore, in the last year Israel has been trying to use its image as a “gay haven”, and use our names as Palestinian Queers to whitewash it’s war crimes that have been committed against us Palestinians, so it was about time to start moving, it was about time to deconstruct Israel’s image as a “gay haven”, and put a stop to the use of our name. Through this initiative, we are looking into providing our perspective on how sexuality is interconnected to wider strategies and political fights.

Sexual and bodily rights often take a backseat in nationalist struggles. Within the context of the Palestinian struggle today, why is a queer perspective necessary? What does this particular angle bring into the picture? What do you, as Palestinian queer activists, want to highlight that conservative activists for Palestine tend to overlook?

Also in the Palestinian nationalist struggle, sexual and bodily rights definitely take a backseat. Unfortunately, we often hear political activists delegitimize sexual and bodily rights, claiming it is not the right timing, and that we must all focus on the national struggle only – as if it is a sterile struggle. We believe PQbds can contribute, challenge, and hopefully in the future, break the current struggle’s hierarchy, and instead suggest to mainstream political movements (including the BDS movement) alternative ways of doing and changing that are based on real engagement between struggles and deep understandings of the intersections between them. It is clear through the different Palestinian queer groups and organizations that we see (and are working hard to promote) ourselves as an integral part of the larger Palestinian society. In a way, PQbds is an additional strategy and not only a new discourse. It is a strategy to make the wider Palestinian society understand that we are an integral part of this society, that we understand the local context, and that we do not come from mars nor live up in the clouds.

Can you describe some of the reactions you have received so far from groups and organizations such as Queers Against Israeli Apatheid (QuAIA), Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism (QUIT)?

Both groups, QuAIA and QUIT on one side, and PACBI on the other side, were part of our past discussions about BDS in specific and other political and solidarity actions. To be honest, all groups had expectations from local Palestinian Queer groups to raise a clearer message about BDS and other political actions/strategies. Some of them understood when it came to our limitations and our own rhythm, while others were more critical and “pushy” in a sense. It was obvious to us that our new initiative would bring positive and supportive responses among these groups and others. We hope this new platform will make our future cooperation more productive to promote BDS among local, regional and international queer groups, and to bring the queer discourse to movements such as BDS.

Any reactions/support from local Palestinian LGBT organizations (such as AlQaws for Sexual & Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society and Aswat – Palestinian Gay Women)?

Many of our activists are part of alQaws and Aswat – and all of us believe that we are part of a larger Palestinian queer movement that is based on solidarity. AlQaws and Aswat were and still are very active in engaging the wider context and political discourse with their queer one. Despite their obvious limitations, they are very vocal against the increasing use of gay rights to whitewash Israel image, and are active in responding – For instance here, where they respond to the current threat to ban QuAIA to march in this year’s Toronto Pride due to their political views and fight against Israeli Apartheid. We hope that PQbds can lead even more direct political actions and clear queer-political discourse as its primary task and focus.

What do you hope to accomplish through Palestinian Queers for BDS?

Actually PQbds exists to shed light on the intersections between sexual and gender struggles and the Palestinian national one. PQbds doesn’t exist only to bring the BDS campaign to queer communities around the world, or to promote a queer discourse among political groups and within the BDS campaign in Palestinian society. We hope to make the connection between the two more obvious and natural.

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Lynn is actively involved in Meem, a community of queer women and trans folk. She's also into pixels, among other things.


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