On 12 September, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported a statement by reservists from an intelligence unit of the the IDF, the Israeli army. Forty-three reservists had signed a letter to Binyamin Netanyahu “saying they would refuse to do reserve service because of Israel’s ‘political persecution’ of the Palestinians.” The same day in the Guardian, a reservist described how “no boundaries were set”: they could use information about almost anything, with no respect at all for Palestinians’ privacy. Information used to put pressure on people included data about their economic situation, their mental state, medical conditions and personal relationships including same-sex relationships but also “who was cheating on his wife, with whom and how often.”
The American pro-Palestinian website Mondoweiss then reported this story under the headline “Israel surveils and blackmails gay Palestinians to make them informants.”
Several days later, the Palestinian group Al Qaws, which campaigns for sexual liberation, commented on the Mondoweiss story, stating that to focus on sexuality as the Mondoweiss article did, distorts our understanding of Palestinian oppression.
We include their statement below (it’s also available on their website).
We are concerned that by isolating homosexuality as the main and most troubling target of the Israeli intelligence apparatus, as recently disclosed, one is ignoring the comprehensive stranglehold that this militarized colonial regime has on the lives and privacy of Palestinians throughout the occupied country.
Blackmailing and extorting an individual on the basis of their sexuality for mainstream LGBT rights framing is a seriously damning act of totalitarian oppression. Concentrating on this alone, however, does allow recognition of a hierarchy of priorities in which Palestinians are expected to acquiesce unquestioningly. Indeed sexuality in its totality (including and not just limited to homosexuality) in Palestine is socially, politically and psychologically significant – but only the symptom of a much larger cancer. It cannot be singled out as a supreme priority vis-a-vis access to healthcare, disruption of freedom of movement, bribery, exposure of marital infidelities, financial blackmail, drug use or any other form of extortion.All eventually amount to systematic and premeditated violence.
The danger in singling out homosexuality only strengthens narratives of pinkwashing, where one could only exist as a secret homosexual person in Palestine, always worried about his/her/their outing, and having to look to Israel as the all-powerful and all-knowing entity capable of making or unmaking that life. Falling prey to this logic only entrenches a false binary that actively frames Palestine and Palestinians as homophobic versus Israel and Israelis as sexually tolerant and liberal. We notice, and are dismayed and worried, that some critiques of, and approaches towards, this revelation practices by the Israeli Intelligence Unit 8200, have a disappointed tone of voice, as if trying to say, ‘Behave Israel, we know you are better than this.’ This is only misleading. The fact is that Israel is a totalitarian military colonial power that has no good intention towards any Palestinian lives it controls and such practices of entrapment are central to (even constitutive of) the fabric of the Israeli Military state.
Israeli Military intelligence is well aware that by using sexuality as tool of extortion and entrapment, it also strengthens this fabricated link between non-heteronormative sexualities, practices and identities and Israeli Colonial Oppression in the eyes of the general Palestinian people. The linking of sexuality with Palestinian collaborators has become a word and a subjectivity of its own in the Palestinian imaginary and reality known as isqatat. In our struggle, we are constantly seeking to dismantle and resist this oppressive stereotype. Therefore, simplistic and reductionist approaches to sexuality in Palestine and Israeli oppression, although intentionally seeking to expose Zionist Israel, unwittingly facilitate this discourse, rather than disrupting pinkwashing. In other words, Israel is interested in portraying Palestinian sexuality in any form that transgresses the confines of the heteronormative institution (conventional marriage), as being in some form linked to Israel. In the case of there being any positive progress in the Palestinian sexual movement, Israel will rush to take the credit. Should there be any regression, Israel will still make use of the situation by stigmatizing and exploiting Palestinians and coming out as the only protagonist for sexual rights and tolerance. All in all, Zionism is the only winner in such dialectics.