Thursday, October 23, 2003

Palestinian gays flee to Israel


A number of gay Palestinian men are risking their lives to cross the border into Israel, claiming they feel safer among Israelis than their own people.

According to some estimates, there are now 300 gay Palestinian men secretly living and working in Israel.

Their willingness to live there - despite the risk of being detained and deported as a security threat - is due to Palestinian attitudes towards gay men, they claim.

One 22-year-old gay man who fled from Gaza into Israel four years ago told BBC World Service's Outlook programme he was almost killed when his family found out about his sexuality.

He says that when he was 18, he was caught with his boyfriend by his brother.

"[My brother] brought a stick and hit us," he said. "He tied us up with an iron rope and went to call my dad, and tell my partner's. Then he came back and hit us again."

Illegal status

The man said he escaped after his brother went out and told his mother and sister-in-law to make sure they did not run away.

"I started crying to my mum, begging her to let us go. So she untied us, and said if my dad found out, he would kill me on the spot.
The man said he ran away and, when he discovered his family were hunting for him, fled to Israel. There, he says, he was placed under virtual house arrest because he was viewed as a potential security risk.

Shaul Gonen, of Israel's main gay rights lobbying group, Agudah, told Outlook that under international law Israel is obliged to offer asylum to those that seek it. But, he says, it can refuse if the applicants are from an area the state is in conflict with.

In practice, Palestinian gays end up being placed under virtual house arrest because of the fear that they may be potential suicide bombers.

"They are unable to find proper help," said Mr Gonen. "Everybody blames them for being something dangerous.

"The Palestinians say if you are gay, you must be a collaborator, while the Israelis treat you as a security threat."


However, many Palestinian gays say they would still rather live under house arrest in Israel, where homosexuality is not considered a crime, than at home.

The 22-year-old who fled his home in Gaza alleged that those who do stay in the occupied territories are often coerced into working for the Palestinian police.

He said that he himself had been stopped by police in Gaza, who had threatened to expose him as a homosexual. He alleged he was told by the police to sleep with another man in order to acquire damaging information about him.
The man alleged that after he refused, the Palestinian police had tortured him.

"They hit me. They put me in a pool of water with just my head sticking out," he claimed.

However, the Israeli secret service also often exploit gay Palestinians, said Mr Gonen.

He says this usually involves coercing them into working undercover, to gather information about other Palestinians.

The precarious status of the gay community means gay men often end up working for the secret service or as targets for exploitation by Israeli men.

"They work as prostitutes, selling their bodies unwillingly because they have to survive," said Mr Gonen.

"Sometimes the Israeli secret police try to recruit them, sometimes the Palestinian police try to recruit them.

"In the end they find themselves falling between all chairs. Nobody wants to help them, everybody wants to use them."

Gay Palestinians say they are mainly persecuted at home because of religious attitudes. Many Muslims claim that homosexuality is strictly against the Koran.

"From my point of view as a Muslim, this phenomenon is rejected completely," one Palestinian in Gaza told Outlook.

"The Islamic religion is merciful - we should try to help them to eliminate this bad phenomenon.

"It has a lot of bad things, a lot of disadvantages, a lot of bad sides - regarding their health, regarding their sociability, regarding their association with people around them."

Hussein Fahmi fights AIDS at AUC

From Al

Egyptian prominent actor Hussein Fahmi, who is also a UN Goodwill Ambassador, held a conference at the American University in Cairo to speak to students about the scourge of HIV/AIDS in Egypt and the Arab world. Hussein stressed that everyone must play a role in educating society about the dangers of HIV/AIDS, and described how the Arab world is not immune to the threats posed by the AIDS pandemic.

According to the Egyptian based daily, Al Ahram, though Egypt has relatively few known cases of HIV/AIDS, Hussein stressed that the time has come to speak out against conservatism which prevents Egyptian society from talking openly about the disease, and explained that people living with AIDS have to first live with the physical and psychological affects of the disease; as their immune systems slowly succumb to the virus, and with the knowledge that they are going to die.

Hussein’s message was clear, stressing that the only way of defeating the disease is through open and honest discussion about the issues – to speak openly about sex, about drug abuse and other behavior which can expose people to the disease. In particular Egyptian youth needs to be aware of the dangers.
The conference is part of the UNDP’s regional HIV/AIDS awareness campaign in the Arab world. The UN estimates that there are 500,000 Arabs living with HIV/AIDS, and UNDP with other UN agencies recognize that the region may be on the verge of a massive AIDS problem unless action is taken now.

Saudis report jump in Aids cases

From BBC News

The ministry of health in Saudi Arabia has announced that the kingdom has registered more than 6,700 cases of Aids. Of these, it says just 1,509 are Saudi nationals.

The first Aids case was reported in Saudi Arabia in 1984. The UN says that by the year 2000, the cumulative total was 436. Last year, another 200 cases were registered.

Today, the Saudi health authorities say there are 6,787 cases, albeit most of them among foreigners.

But still, why the sudden addition of several thousand cases? The exponential leap may reflect better reporting of Aids rather than a dramatic change in the rate of infection.

After all, making the announcement, the head of Saudi Arabia's Epidemic and Parasitic Diseases Authority said 95% of the kingdom's Aids cases were spread by what he called "forbidden sexual relations".

Pre-marital sex, adultery and homosexuality are all strictly prohibited under the sharia law practised in Saudi Arabia.

The penalties include jail, flogging and stoning.

So there is not overwhelming public or official sympathy for Aids sufferers in Saudi Arabia.
Earlier this year, the Saudi authorities had to investigate claims that a hospital dumped a terminally-ill Aids patient on the streets, barely conscious.

A Saudi newspaper, the Arab News, said the man was picked up by the hospital security staff and left on the pavement outside his employer's offices.

Saudi Arabia is also in the throes of a debate about introducing greater democracy and more openness.

What appears to be the more honest reporting of Aids cases may be one more sign of change stirring within the kingdom.