Last night I watched The Invisible Men; Yariv Mozer’s polemic documentary about the situation of gay Palestinians inside Israel. The documentary follows the lives of three men, Louie, Abdu and Faris, who have escaped from the Palestinian territories across the border into Israel.
Tel Aviv is well known for its gay scene and relative equality compared to other Middle Eastern countries when it comes to homosexuality. Homosexuality is legal in Israel, and homosexuals enjoy much the same rights as in Europe. Equal marriage isn’t legal, however, and, of course Jerusalem is somewhat a special case when compared to Tel Aviv. Despite all this, this tolerance doesn’t extend to homosexual Palestinian refugees, and as a result they live their lives in fear of being sent back across the border into the Palestinian territories, where their families, friends and the police are often waiting to attack.
The documentary focuses on Louie, who has a noticeable scar on his face from when his father attacked him with a knife after finding out about his homosexuality. He has lived illegally in Israel for 10 years, mostly avoiding the police but occasionally being returned across the border. He meets with Abdu who has applied for humanitarian asylum in Europe. While this may seem like the logical option, this is a difficult decision to make. Applying for asylum in Europe is a long process with no guarantee. Furthermore, for these men, Europe is a world apart from the world they have grown up in. Obviously, they will be able to live openly as homosexuals in Europe in relative safety (the EU Fundamental Rights Agency survey has proved, however, that even Western Europe isn’t a utopia for gay rights and equality), but they will be alone and a long way from home. On top of this, they will experience a language barrier and it is unlikely they will return to Israel or the Palestinian territories any time in the near future. Louie doesn’t want to leave Israel. He was born there and has lived there this entire life, but a lack of an Israeli birth stamp and residency papers means that he cannot legally stay in Israel or apply for Israeli asylum.
This raises many, many questions. This film was only made possible because all three men ended up gaining asylum in Europe and as a result they are now safe from their families and the Israeli police force and the Magav (the border force). Politics is obviously a huge and contentious issue in this area of the world and it is something for which there is no clear and simple answer. Palestinian citizens need to be able to claim asylum in Israel on the basis of sexual discrimination in the Palestinian territories, however. Israel is progressive in terms of its policies concerning homosexuality, and as we see time and time again from Eytan Fox’s films (for example) gay Palestinians could live happy and safe lives in Israel just like homosexuals do from many other countries in the world. This would mean they would not have to leave the Middle East to find safety, and would solve a lot of the fundamental issues that face them everyday, or issues that they would face in Europe. Here Israel has the opportunity to become a safe-haven and model for rest of the Middle East on social reform and sexual equality. At the very least the police forces should be more understanding of the plight of these men, instead of simply seeing them as the Palestinian papers they hold.
This documentary is very moving, and can be difficult to watch at times. The stories these men tell, and the obvious fears they have are testaments to the inequalities of this world. There are many sub-issues that influence this particular problem (all of which are political) and it seems a crying injustice that these men should be returned to, what is essentially, their deaths on the grounds of their sexuality and their nationality. If we are to promote that all love is equal in the Western World then we need to think of our brothers and sisters all over the world that are discriminated against to the point of death on a daily basis.
Die Zeit newspaper in Germany recently ran a story on Palestinian gay men in Tel Aviv, which featured many heart-breaking stories of boys being pushed from pillar to post, back and forth across the border in a fight with the Israeli police and their families. One boy had been in Tel Aviv since he was a teenager; he was raped as a child but his father believed his rapist’s lies because of the position he held in their town. As a result, he punished his son, locked him up and physically and mentally abused him. When the boy finally managed to escape he crossed the border to Israel. Living in an abandoned bus station he was involved with drugs and lived in fear of the police. He once returned home, only to be attacked again by his family. The article, entitled Wir Kinder vom Busbahnhof (Us children from the bus station) is available here in full, if you speak German.
I can only assume there are only stories of male homosexuals in this situation in the press and on film because, as is often the case when homosexuals are persecuted, the (all too often) men in charge in these countries do not see lesbianism as a real threat for reasons that link back to misogynistic ideologies. Whereas male homosexuals are often seen, and portrayed in propaganda, as dangerous and ‘infectious’ bodies due to the penetrative nature of sex between men. There seems to be a belief that female sexuality is also not a threat because this is a ‘weak decision’ that can be changed by a man. Men are scared of other men that threaten their masculinity or patriarchy. For more information surrounding this, see research into the persecution of homosexuals in the Third Reich – particularly Richard Plant’s seminal text, The Pink Triangle. Ernst Röhm is a fine example of a gay man who became too powerful and was killed by the fears of his fellow party members.
Finally, the Israeli LGBT+ organisation can be reached here (in English and Hebrew) and they feature as helpers in the asylum process in Mozer’s documentary. More information about Mozer’s documentary can be found here.
(I do not own this image).