This past week I went to two completely different demonstrations. One was Jerusalem Pride and the other was the weekly protest against the Apartheid Wall in Ni'lin. I was going to blog about them separately, but it seemed fitting to put them into this one blog to give you a better sense of the massive contrasts between the West Bank and '48 and between the concerns of Jewish Israelis and those of Palestinians.
On Thursday, the annual Jerusalem Pride parade took place. I went with my video camera, eager to film some ridiculous backlash which I could then bring home to show people how queers are treated in Israel - the only safe place for homos in the Middle East. Now before I get into what I saw at J-Pride, I need to talk about the ordeal of getting there. I am in Ramallah, a city that should only be a short drive from Jerusalem. With the Wall and checkpoints, that is totally not the case. First I had to take a service (cab/bus) to Qalandia, where I had to get out and walk through the checkpoint. I had to wait in line (short line because it was 2pm, other times it would have been much longer), put my bag through an x-ray machine, then present my passport to some 18 year-old Israeli soldier. I'm lucky - I have a Canadian passport, so I was allowed through. No queer Palestinians with West Bank ID could have come to Jerusalem Pride. I then got on another bus into the Old City where I had to scramble to buy credit for my Israeli phone card because my Palestinian SIM card does not work outside the West Bank - the Israelis don't let Jawwal build towers there. I met up with some folks and we went into West Jerusalem. I have been in the West Bank for over 3 weeks and have gotten used to the level of poverty here. I have gotten used to seeing dirty streets because of lack of proper waste management, people selling whatever they can on the roadside, houses and roads in disrepair etc. It wasn't until I saw the affluence on the other side of the Wall that the poverty in the West Bank really hit me again.
Now Pride itself. It started in a park, which was surrounded by police and soldiers. We were thoroughly searched going in. In the 'boys' line, we saw them search a soldier fo concealed weapons, even though he was carrying a giant gun. Insane. The parade was uneventful - there were more police and soldiers than participants and no visible counter-demo because of the intense military presence. A quick note to queer Zionists here: if you need the military to protect you, your country still has some serious homophobia issues. Seriously, it's time for you to shut up about it being the only safe place in the middle east for queers.
The parade ended in 'Independence Park' where there were speeches and terrible musical performances (I kid you not, one guy did an acoustic version of Brittany Spears' Toxic). Unlike the friends I was with, I could actually understand the speeches, which was really unfortunate. They started off talking about Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was captured in Gaza three years ago. Pride was on the anniversary of his capture, so I got to hear all about him. Then the rest of the speeches talked about how Jerusalem needs to be a free city, welcoming to everyone. There was lots of talk about human rights and diversity. Honestly, it would have been so easy for them to link the queer struggle to the anti-apartheid movement, but of course these queer zionists didn't seize that opportunity. The communists, to their credit had signs that said 'gay against the occupation' and I think the anarchists were up to some shenanigans, but other than that it was a queer Zionist nightmare. And not even that queer - these liberated Israeli queers did very little actually queer stuff, I only saw two boys makeout the entire time. So much for their freedom to just be. The highlight for me was seeing this sign (picture soon, although it's in Hebrew so you'll have to trust me on the translation) that had a map of Palestine, although they would call it Israel, with an Israeli flag marking Jerusalem. It said 'I don't don't tell you how to live here'. Ah, the hypocrisy was overwhelming. I fled back to Ramallah as quickly as I could. The cab driver who ripped us off on the way, sure didn't want to drive us to the Arab quarter to catch our bus.
The next day I got up bright and early to head to Ni'lin for the weekly demonstration. I was told it was calmer than usual in part because the heat and two weddings in the village reduced the number of demonstrators. Plus the Israelis seem to be shifting tactics slightly - last week they brought journalists to Bil'in and Ni'lin and just stood there getting hit by rocks. No tear gas, no bullets, just a great photo op. There were no journalists on Friday so even though it was calm, a calm Friday in Ni'lin still involves the Israelis using a jeep that can fire 32 tear gas canisters at once. We would go up as close to the fence as possible and chant, the youth would throw stones and then every so often, this jeep would drive down the hill and fire a barrage of tear gas. We would run back, the gas would hit us and then pass after some time and then we would go back up to the fence. For anyone that doesn't understand the Wall and settlements, they only need to spend about 30 seconds on the hilltop in Ni'lin. The Wall is being constructed right on their land and as far as you can see, there are settlements built on land already stolen. I kept thinking of that stupid sign at Pride 'I don't tell you how to live here'.
The connection between these two events for me is that its the same army firing on ni'lin that as protecting queer Israelis from other Israelis. These issues are so deeply connected, especially in the lives of queer Palestinians who face homophobia and apartheid. I won't be in Toronto to march with Queers Against Israeli Apartheid this week, but I'm with them in spirit from here in Ramallah. At least we can try to make Toronto Pride political again, cuz J-Pride was a depressing, Zionist mess.