Originally appeared August 28, 2002, in the Chicago Free Press.
LET'S TAKE A QUIZ. No peeking at the answers directly below.
1. Which Middle Eastern country has no sodomy laws nor uses vague charges such as "offenses against religion" or "immoral conduct" to prosecute and imprison gays and lesbians?
2. Which Middle Eastern country has a variety of gay organizations which safely conduct gay advocacy efforts?
3. Which Middle Eastern country has a gay and lesbian community center in its capital city?
4. Which Middle Eastern country holds annual Gay Pride parades?
5. Which Middle Eastern country has members of parliament who actively support and speak out on behalf of gays and lesbians?
6. In which Middle Eastern country did the head of state meet with gay activists?
7. Which Middle Eastern country lets gays and lesbians join its military services?
8. Which Middle Eastern country has broadcast programs about gays and lesbians on its television stations?
9. And a bonus question: When gays in Palestine are forced to flee persecution, what Middle Eastern country do they usually flee to?
The contrasting treatment of gay men in neighboring Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt is well known: Gays are beheaded or sentenced to long prison terms.
What seems less well known, however, is the appalling treatment of gays under Yassir Arafat's Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza. At least it was less known until Yossi Klein Halevi wrote about it in the August 19th New Republic. Palestine makes rural Texas look like San Francisco.
According to Halevi, one young man discovered to be gay was forced by Palestinian Authority police "to stand in sewage water up to his neck, his head covered by a sack filled with feces, and then he was thrown into a dark cell infested with insects." During one interrogation Palestinian police stripped him and forced him to sit on a Coke bottle.
When he was released he fled to Israel. If he were forced to return to Gaza, he said, "The police would kill me."
An American who foolishly moved into the West Bank to live with his Palestinian lover said they told everyone they were just friends, but one day they "found a letter under our door from the Islamic court. It listed the five forms of death prescribed by Islam for homosexuality, including stoning and burning. We fled to Israel that same day," he said.
The head of a Tel Aviv gay organization told Halevi, "The persecution of gays in the Palestinian Authority doesn't just come from the families or the Islamic groups, but from the P.A. itself."
Palestinian police have increasingly enforced Islamic religion law, he said: "It's now impossible to be an open gay in the P.A." He recalled that one gay man in the Palestinian police went to Israel for a short time. When he returned to the West Bank, Palestinian Authority police confined him to a pit without food or water until he died.
A 17-year-old gay youth recalled that he spent months in a Palestinian Authority prison "where interrogators cut him with glass and poured toilet cleaner into his wounds."
The U.S. State Department, which more and more seems to be living on some other planet, blandly noted in a 2001 human rights report, "In the Palestinian territories homosexuals generally are socially marginalized and occasionally receive physical threats." That's one way to put it.
In the last few years, Halevi reports, hundreds of gay Palestinians, mostly from the West Bank, have fled to Israel, usually to Tel Aviv, Israel's most cosmopolitan city. Many are desperately poor, he says, "but at least they're beyond the reach of their families and the P.A."
So it seems clear that Israel is the one country in the region in which gays have legal rights as citizens and live in safety and freedom.
Oddly, however, some gays and lesbians over on the anti-capitalist ("progressive") left sympathize with Palestinian terrorists and support the Palestinian Authority. One such fledgling group calls itself "Queers for Palestine," another is named "Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism" (as if trying to stop terrorism against Israeli civilians is itself terrorism).
To be sure, no one should argue that gays and lesbians must support Israel just because it is vastly more gay-friendly. They don't. They may feel that some other political principles are more important than gay-friendliness.
But gays who support Palestine, and they seem almost entirely on the far reaches of the political left, give the lie to the frequent demand made by gays on the left that the rest of us must support some "progressive" politician or position because it supposedly benefits gays, even though doing so would compromise or violate some basic political principle we as individuals may hold.
Keep "Queers for Palestine" in mind next time some gay left advocate says that because you are gay you have to support some approved "gay" position. And remember the pit, the sewer water, the bag of feces and the toilet bowl cleaner.