The Earth is closing on us
pushing us through the last passage
and we tear off our limbs to pass through.
—Mahmoud Darwish, "The Earth is Closing on Us"
Greetings to the one who shares with me an attention to
the drunkenness of light, the light of the butterfly, in the
blackness of this tunnel!
—Mahmoud Darwish, "Under Siege"
Shortly after the slight, burnt body of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was discovered this July in a Jerusalem forest—not far from the ruins of Deir Yassin, the site of a previous massacre perpetrated as part of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948—Israeli authorities sought to “pinkwash” Israeli responsibility for the lynching by claiming the boy’s relatives had savagely killed him for being gay. They demanded the family deliver all of Mohammed’s young male relatives for questioning. The family refused. Israeli forces thereupon launched an assault on the Palestinian Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat. A video shows uniformed and masked Israeli policemen mercilessly beating and kicking the unconscious, limp body of Mohammed’s teenage American cousin Tariq.
Here, and elsewhere throughout Palestine/Israel, is a tale of bodies, borders, transgression, and very cynically, the colonialist enunciation of a self-congratulating western civilizational discourse deployed to create a free pass for the Israeli state (on behalf of its purported sex-positive-and-tolerant-civilized-society) to eliminate Palestinian bodies without having to account for either the mounting bodies or the bloody deeds of their high-tech killing campaigns. The pass allows for seasonal killing forays, euphemistically called “mowing the lawn,” which anticipate western public sympathy for the dirty work of clearing away the bodies that Israel wants you to consider as inconsequential as patches of pesky weeds.
The astonishingly deliberate pinkwashing strategies of the past decade are, notably, a response to the perceived power of queer successes, namely the pushing of queerness beyond matters of what "I have the right to do with my body" to "all bodies have rights to self-determination in contexts including and extending beyond sex," as imperfectly and unevenly as that shift has played out. The high number of western queer activists working on Palestine has caught the attention of the Israeli hasbarists, and pinkwashing was invented to deter others in the west who cared about sexual freedoms from supporting such an allegedly homo-backwards, patriarchal and barbaric society as Palestine's (and by extension the broader Arab and Islamic cultural zone Palestinians are a part of). The image of two (North American or European) gay tourists holding hands on a beach in Tel Aviv, juxtaposed against the trope of "just miles away, Arabs kill gays," was meant to elicit western civilizational permission and support for "just miles away, Israelis (are forced to) kill Arabs." Alice might be forgiven for wanting to stay in Wonderland, lest she get caught in the crossfire, or worse, be skewered by fanatical Arabs "on the other side."
The delusion is not that patriarchy and homophobia exist—the delusion is that they exist on "the other side" only and that these forms of oppression are not connected to, and pollinated by, others the Israeli state happily nurtures. I will not dive too deeply for the moment into questions of militarized patriarchies and religious orthodoxies tied to states and movements who seek to place queer bodies "in their place" or "out of site." Each "side" has these internal dynamics, but only one side has the power to put the entire other side "in its place" and "out of site" with towering concrete walls, checkpoints and policing of borders, bombing campaigns, land and water confiscation, home demolitions, arbitrary imprisonment, systematic torture, and the endless resources to shape and disseminate a narrative that reverses oppressor and victim.
Reminiscent of more classic colonial tropes is the one postulating that while Israel (sadly and reluctantly) kills bad Arabs, iconized as violently homophobic, Israel saves victimized gay Arabs who would be killed by their own barbaric (and therefore deservedly subjugated and controlled) families and communities. The trope of gay Palestinians fleeing to Israel from the West Bank obscures so much -- not least of which is that West Bankers perilously crossing the Green Line for a variety of reasons, do so because of economic and social pressures created by Israeli colonization and displacement, and the decades-long siege, pressures, and traumas encumbering Palestinian society and development. Palestinian queers face the challenges of being Palestinian in the face of grinding Israeli violence, first and foremost, and those pressures can interrupt and distort social movements and the development of new ideas around sexual and social liberation (especially when pinkwashing rhetorically uses those very ideas to justify further oppression of Palestinians). Still, Palestinian queers (remarkably) have become more vocal and visible both in historic Palestine and in the global movements to counter Israeli pinkwashing, and to raise the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) in their own voices.
The conceptual confiscation and de-fanging of queer as an instrument of scorn, and the transformation of its assaultive powers into a new queer that allowed for playful and perverse pleasures, warranted a celebration of those delicious perversities. All play and no work, however, was just too gay. Queers had to look oppressive perversities in the eye wherever they might encounter them, and sometimes they were represented in the bodies of Palestinian men and women crossing lines by crawling through underground tunnels or scaling cement walls. Transgressive bodies passed this way. The queerness of the transgressive, defiant and acrobatic Palestinian body, an outlaw body throwing itself against and beyond the powers that seek to colonize and destroy it, animated many around the world (including queers) to stand with Palestinians and their claims for rights, one outlaw body with another, and to reject pinkwashing.
Palestinian queers, even more so, are animated by an acrobatics of resistance informed by generations of defiant bodies and poetic resilience. Queers passed this way scrawled in Arabic on the wall of a Palestinian town, then, is bound to be read in a number of ways. For me, a queer reading of this Palestinian graffiti would be too straight—no longer as powerful and subversive as it would have been two decades ago. Now, after moving through so many last passages, a Palestinian acrobatic-poetic reading of this queer scrawl is what brings it to life and connects it to other powerful transgressions and passages, including the journey to Palestine of Darnell L. Moore as a member of a delegation of queer and trans activists. Israeli authorities "received" him upon arriving in Tel Aviv "black, male, and bearded" by detaining and questioning him, including inspecting the words on the pages of his notebook. Moore writes of feeling silenced upon his return from Palestine: "Terror compels us to mute our voice and to still reaction," a terror emanating from the realization that "our knowing is dangerous." He is able to leap over this silencing by connecting to the words, and presence, of the "black feminist poet warrior scholar June Jordan":
June Jordan’s words (I was born a Black woman / and now / I am become a Palestinian) resuscitated my courage and like her I had become a Palestinian, though, I had been a Palestinian all along—even before my arrival on the land. I only needed to recall the guard that awaited me when I departed the plane; the guard that took my passport, my itinerary, my scrapbook, my words; the guard that interrogated me one on one in the security room wanting to know if my beard was a sign for allegiance to Allah . . . the many guards that guard a nation from everyone else but itself.
I am no longer silent because I refuse to become a “map” held in someone else’s hand carrying unvoiced memories.
I speak. I write. Because, I have to. (Moore)
I share the drunkenness of light in the darkness of this tunnel with Darnell L. Moore and June Jordan, among many others, and I refuse both the mapping and the siege, recalling the words of Darwish in “Under Siege” as I look for the opening of the next last passage: The siege will last in order to convince us we must choose an enslavement that does no harm, in fullest liberty!
Fadi Abu-Rummaneh is the pseudonym of a professor at a community college in California.
Darwish, Mahmoud. "The Earth is Closing on Us." Justice Palestine. Web.
—. "Under Siege." DesertPeace. WordPress.com. August 9, 2008. Web. http://desertpeace.wo rdpress.com/2008/08/09/mahmoud-darwish-in-memoriam/.
Moore, Darnell L. “The Occupation Stole My Words, June Jordan Helped me to Relocate Them.” TheFeministWire.com. March 1, 2012. Web. http://thefeministwire.com/2012/03/the-occupation-stole-my-words-june-jordan-helped-me-to-relocate-them-2/.