In 2006, drag queens, LGBTQ communities and friends –both Palestinian and Israeli– defied political expectations and social convention with rambunctious displays of heels and makeup in a colorful denial of the darker elements of greater society.
Shushan, a tiny West Jerusalem bar, was a magical place where performers would dress up as classic Arab divas such as Um Kalthoum. Whether for an Orthodox Jew or a West Bank Palestinian who had “snuck across,” the place had an air of acceptance, if only an illusory one.
Shushan shut down years ago, and the LGBTQ scene in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel continues to be divided. Nonetheless, there have since been some positive developments since then. The nascent Palestinian queer community is more politically mobilized, on the one hand throwing its weight behind academic, political and cultural activism. On the other hand, according to academic and political voices in the community, the Israeli government is engaged in what they call “pinkwashing,” a term that refers to the “cynical attempt to justify Israeli policies by portraying the country as a progressive haven for LGBTQ individuals in contrast with Palestine and the greater Middle East, in order to detract attention away from Israel’s human rights violations. Yet homophobia in both societies persists. The year before some of these pictures were taken, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish extremist stabbed three spectators at Jerusalem Pride. In 2015, he attacked the same event again, stabbing 16 year old Shira Banki to death and wounding six others.
While gains have been made in the acceptance of different sexual and gender identities in Israeli and Palestinian civil society, the divisions within LGBTQ communities continue to mirror larger social and political inequalities.