Dreams of Solidarity
Although today's gay pride march in Jerusalem was downgraded to a stadium rally, the fact that it took place at all was a setback for its opponents.
Although today's gay pride march in Jerusalem was downgraded to a stadium rally, the fact that it took place at all was a setback for its opponents
The Guardian - Comment is Free - 10 November 2006
Jewish and Arab gays have pulled off the biggest diplomatic coup in modern Middle East history. They have got warring Christians, Judaists and Muslims working together for the first time since the foundation of the state of Israel .
Religionists who previously refused to even acknowledge each other's right to exist, are now talking to each other. In an unprecedented show of multi-faith and multi-party unity, Israelis and Palestinians have formed a common front - reaching out to one another in a ground-breaking gesture of unity and solidarity.
They can't agree about peace in the Middle East, but the fundamentalists of all three faiths are united in their opposition to a Gay Pride march in Jerusalem. A "march of sodomites" is, they say, the biggest ever threat to the "holy city" - a greater threat than Israeli annexations of Palestinian land and a greater threat than Palestinian suicide bombers. I kid you not.
Even more shocking, the zealots have won. The Gay Pride "March for Tolerance," which should have taken place in Jerusalem today, has been cancelled on security grounds by the organisers, Jerusalem Open House, and replaced by a stadium rally.
At last year's Gay Pride march, Judaist fanatics attacked the procession, stabbing three participants. This year, a three-faith alliance of rabbis, priests and sheikhs threatened a million-strong counter protest. The police warned they could not guarantee the safety of the marchers, after a week of death threats and anti-Gay Pride rioting by ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israel's hard right extremists.
Calling for the killing of the Gay Pride march leaders, Jewish fundamentalists pronounced against them the same rabbinic death curse that was made against Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin a few days before his assassination.
Religious bigots from other faiths chimed in, endorsing the ultra-Orthodox threats and violence. Muslim leaders warned the march would go ahead "over our dead bodies." The Vatican also denounced the march. So has Shimon Peres, the former Israeli Prime Minister and "man of peace" who now allies himself with Israel's war machine and homophobes on the far right.
If nothing else, the fanatics from all three faiths have demonstrated to the world the very real threat to human rights posed by religious fundamentalism. They have made the controversy over the Gay Pride march into something much bigger: a battle to defend the democratic and humanitarian values of free speech and the right to protest. These are values that ought to concern everyone, everywhere.
What Judaist, Muslim and Christian fundamentalists cannot stand is the fact the lesbian and gay community is offering a model of acceptance, unity and love that transcends religious, national, racial and political hatreds.
In Jerusalem, lesbians and gays of all faiths and none socialise together, campaign together, live together and love together. No other community shows such solidarity between Arab and Jew, Israeli and Palestinian, Muslim and Judaist.
The bearded straight men of ancient enmity and violence are enraged that the hateful, tribal divisions they sow, and on which they depend for their power, are being undermined by the show of unity and solidarity exemplified by Palestinian and Israeli gays and lesbians. To these backward, bigoted fundamentalists, queers are sexual subversives and traitors.
It is no coincidence that the sub-theme of today's cancelled "March for Tolerance" was "Love without borders" - a calculated condemnation of national boundaries that divide people and, in particular, an implicit attack on Israel's "apartheid" wall, which has exacerbated separations, blocked free movement and hindered dialogue.
Even though the Gay Pride march was downgraded to a stadium rally, the fact that this rally took place at all was a big setback for the Christian, Judaist and Muslim fundamentalists who had opposed any manifestation of gay visibility and pride, and who believe lesbian and gay people should be jailed, flogged and executed.
It has had the immense positive effect of promoting an unprecedented public debate about gay issues in Israel and its Middle Eastern neighbours; giving comfort and hope to isolated, downcast queers throughout the Arab world.
In the Palestinian territories, lesbians and gays are subjected to detention without trial, torture and execution by the Palestinian Authority. There are also extra-judicial killings of gays, perpetrated by armed groups from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah. These murderous fundamentalist gangs are hailed as "liberation heroes" (sic) by many western left-wingers.
For saying this, I can already predict the denunciations of the far left: "Tatchell is a Zionist.a Mossad agent.a neo-con apologist." Not true.
I speak as someone who has supported the Palestinian freedom struggle for 35 years. Together with the actress Vanessa Redgrave and many other people, in the early 1970s I began campaigning for a unified, democratic, federal, secular state, where Jews and Arabs can live together in peace, unity, equality and justice. I still believe in that dream.
The lesbian and gay communities in Israel and Palestine prove that this dream is possible.
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