By QUIT! Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism
The theme of World Pride 2006, to be held in West Jerusalem in August, is â€śLove Without Borders.â€ť From the planned starting point of the march on Ben Yehuda Street, you can see with the naked eye one of the harshest borders ever constructed: a 25-foot concrete wall, called by Israel the â€śseparation barrierâ€ť and known to Palestinians as the Apartheid (or Segregation) Wall.
What is the message to Palestinians, and to anyone in the world who cares about human rights, of attending World Pride? Hagai El-Ad, Executive Director of Jerusalem Open House, which is sponsoring World Pride, himself gives the answer. In 2002, he wrote: â€śIt would be unbearable to: on behalf of our minority ignore the human rights of others, including whatâ€™s been happening here in relation to Palestine for the past yearâ€”roadblocks, prevention of access to medical care, assassinations, and implementation of an apartheid policy in the territories and in Israel. The struggle for our rights is worthless if itâ€™s indifferent to whatâ€™s happening to people a kilometer from here.â€ť
Unfortunately, El-Ad seems to have forgotten this very correct principle. The mission statement of World Pride 2006 does not even mention the Palestinians, whose living conditions are much worse today than they were in 2002. Donâ€™t take our word for it. Read it for yourself, at www.worldpride.net. Instead, the statement proclaims, â€śIt is time to demonstrate to our community, to our neighbors and peers and indeed to the world, not only that we belong, but that our love and our pride can cross the harshest borders that divide people.â€ť
If World Pride organizers want to demonstrate to their Palestinian neighbors that â€śour love and our pride can cross the harshest borders,â€ť they will bring queers to Jerusalem to tear down the Wall. If that were the nature of World Pride, we would not call for a boycott; we would urge everyone to participate. At a minimum, Jerusalem Open House should demand publicly that the Israeli government open all the checkpoints that prevent Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza from coming into Jerusalem, and lift its prohibition on visitors from Muslim countries. JOH is not making these demands, because, organizers say, â€śWe are not political.â€ť A pride event that is â€śnot political,â€ť held in segregated West Jerusalem, will send only one message: queers support apartheid.
Supporters of World Pride Jerusalem argue that U.S. queers have no right to call for a boycott of travel to Israel because our government is also occupying another country. In fact, our government is occupying many countriesâ€”Iraq, Afghanistan, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Guam, Saipan, not to mention indigenous nations. Our government is also guilty of the crime of apartheid, as the devastation of New Orleans proved. When an international campaign for sanctions against the United States gets going, we will not urge international queers to cross the picket line because we donâ€™t support government policies. In 1990, the Sixth International AIDS Conference was held in San Francisco, and many groups and individuals boycotted it because the U.S. government excludes people with HIV from entering the country. There were people concerned about AIDS who attended the conference anyway, saying that the ends justified the means. Thousands of queers filled the streets to protest that way of thinking.
We do not call for a boycott of World Pride because we think there are no good Israelis, or because we think we are morally superior to Israelis. We do not call for a boycott because Palestinians are oppressed. We call for a boycott because the Palestinians have risen up against their oppression, and have asked for our solidarity. Palestinian civil society, represented by over 200 nongovernmental organizations from all sectors of society, recently renewed its appeal for an international campaign of boycott and sanction against Israel. The world community has responded to this call, using the model of divestment from South Africa. Institutions from the Presbyterian Church to the European Union have acknowledged that it is time to take the kind of action that international law mandates to pressure states which practice apartheid and engage in ongoing military occupation in violation of over 80 resolutions of the United Nations.
A boycott is not an individual act of conscience. It is a strategic collective action to pressure a particular institution. Many of us grew up never knowing what a grape was, because of the years-long organizing struggle of the United Farm Workers. At the same time we bought tomatoes, cherries, strawberries, cucumbers, which were picked by unorganized workers in equally bad conditions. The UFW won their fight in the vineyards, and moved on to the strawberry fields.
In the early 1990s, the queer community mobilized and forced Miller Beer and Marlboro cigarettes out of our bars because profits from their sales funded Jesse Helms. Queers drank Budweiser and Heineken, and smoked Camel Lights, not because those companies were so enlightened, but because the point was not to be pure but to win. If a generation of performing artists had said, â€śWeâ€™re going to South Africa to play Sun City because many other countries have racist policies,â€ť Nelson Mandela would have died in prison.
The campaign which ended South African apartheid did not build overnight. The first calls for an international boycott came after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960. In 1987, the International Gay Association (now ILGA) expelled the Gay Association of South Africa, which did not oppose apartheid, after a four-year battle. If the queer community had only been represented by GASA and the IGA, it is unlikely that South Africa would be the first country in the world to enshrine equal rights for LGBT people in its constitution. Gay activists like Simon Nkoli and the Rand Gay Organization showed that queer liberation is an integral part of human liberation, by fighting for human liberation as the essential context for queer liberation.
When the history of the movement that brought down Israeli apartheid is written, do we want it to say that queers came to celebrate in a city where Palestinian homes were being demolished and their residency rights revoked? Or do we want it to say that we stood with those who were struggling for justice? There are only two sides to a picket line. Which are you on?