Locating the universality of love and diversity within Israel.
When I was recounting the time I spent in Israel this summer with my friends, it didn’t surprise them that I traveled to the West Bank, that I went through checkpoints or visited areas where suicide terrorists had previously struck; they were not even surprised that I stood within a few meters of the anti-terror fence. What really shocked them was my night in a gay bar – in Jerusalem.
“Homosexuality is legal?” they would ask. “There are gays in Jerusalem?” Yes it is and yes there are.
I saw a very different Israel than the one we see on CNN or in various media sources. I saw the pluralistic, open democracy that she is. I experienced the same diversity I experience in Canada. The bar my friends and I went to reminded me of my favorite one in Toronto: Tango (except what Tango had in drag queens, this bar made up for with Ace of Base).
The place was packed with Arabs, Jews, Christians, Israelis, visitors, women, men, trans people and the rest of the entire spectrum of sexuality. They all danced, sang and flirted freely and openly. Despite being thousands of miles away, I felt at home. There is just something comforting about the tight pants: Some things just seem to transcend cultural differences. Though much to the chagrin of my friend, in Israel it appeared that the straight men who were not wearing Thai fishing pants wore tighter clothes than the gay ones!
The city itself is divided into four quarters: The Jewish quarter, where I was living, the Arab quarter, the Christian quarter and the Armenian quarter. The irony people point out is the proximity of this particular bar to not only the
Western Wall, but also the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I never really perceived this as strange though, especially considering my time spent at Toronto’s aptly named Church Street.
Thus, while the locale was completely natural to me, it continues to amaze my friends, both queer and straight. Israel is the only country in the region that has no anti-sodomy laws and is even a step ahead of the American “don’t ask don’t tell” policy. Just like in the Canadian army, gay Israeli soldiers are out and supported. In fact, just recently there was a gay marriage at the Royal Military College here in Canada, just as an acclaimed film about a gay couple in the Israeli army (Yossi and Jagger) was released.
I can, however, understand the ignorance my friends display, since this particular region of the world is not known as gay-friendly. In neighboring Egypt, homosexual men are beheaded, tortured or jailed, despite the fact that
homosexuality is actually not illegal. Or in Afghanistan, men can suffer such punishments as being buried alive or having buildings collapsed on them.
Yet one does not even need to look far outside the borders of Israel to see mistreatment of homosexuals. Palestinian homosexuals, living in Gaza under the Palestinian Authority, have experienced some of the cruelest torture endorsed and often executed by the PA itself. It is not surprising that gay Palestinians have been fleeing to Israeli cities, especially to Tel Aviv where same sex partners display public affection without passersby even batting an
Many of these Palestinians – alongside Israeli Arabs, Israeli Jews and people from around the world, hopefully myself included – will participate in next summer’s World Pride festivities in Jerusalem.
“What? Pride in Jerusalem?” sounds the typical disbelief. Yes. Pride will be taking place in Jerusalem. Not in Berlin, not in New York or Toronto, not even in Tel Aviv, where a myriad of Israeli LGBT organizations are based, but in
The theme for this parade is “Love without Borders”, a perfect one in my opinion. It will illustrate the universality of love and the encouragement of diversity within Israel. I hope I’ll be able to be at the parade holding the
hand of my Jordanian lesbian friend.
(Originally appeared in the York University Excalibur)