Sunday, February 01, 2004

Lesbian activist fights deportation in Israel

Lesbian human rights and peace activist Kate Raphael remained in custody Tuesday in an Israeli detention center following her arrest last Wednesday while videotaping Israeli military actions in the Palestinian village of Budrus.

Raphael is now fighting plans by Israeli authorities to deport her.

Raphael's supporters planned to demonstrate outside the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco to protest her arrest and pending deportation, and to demand a meeting with the Israeli Consul.

An outspoken critic of the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinian citizens, Raphael was in the West Bank as part of an international effort to monitor and document human rights abuses by Israeli authorities. Raphael was in Budrus to protest land clearing and the removal of trees by Israeli authorities to facilitate construction of the 400-mile separation barrier. Raphael was among a handful of international activists who had joined villagers in the protest when Israeli Defense Forces used tear gas and fired rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.

Besides Raphael, three other foreigners were arrested, including Swedish Parliament member Gustav Fridolin. After Israeli authorities issued deportation orders against the four, Fridolin left the country voluntarily. Raphael has remained in custody to challenge the deportation.

"Ms. Raphael maintains that she has done nothing wrong and that Israel is trying to expel her from the country as part of an effort to stop international scrutiny of its actions in the Occupied Territories," said Raphael's supporters in a prepared statement Tuesday.

"Kate is Jewish, so this is very important to her," said Raphael's friend and fellow activist Julie Starobin.

"What's going on over there is very horrifying to her," Starobin told the Network. "She feels like she's doing important work there and she's fighting the deportation. Otherwise she could leave like anybody else."

Raphael wants to stay in Israel to continue a project promoting Israeli-Palestinian understanding called "Shachen I' Shachen," or Neighbor to Neighbor. As part of that project, Raphael conducts "reality tour" workshops for Israelis to help them better understand human rights abuses against Palestinians.

Raphael has been active in GLBT, anti-war and human rights activism for many years. She is a member of QUIT (Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism), an international human rights group that, according to its Web site, "encompasses the movement for Palestinian liberation."

QUIT made headlines in the gay press last summer when it protested the San Francisco debut of an Israeli film depicting the relationship between two gay Israeli soldiers. QUIT members, including Raphael, unfurled banners inside the Castro Theater criticizing the film.

Saudi cleric denounces mixing of sexes at talks

Saudi Arabia's leading Muslim cleric has denounced an international economic summit in the Red Sea port of Jiddah for breaking Islamic laws which forbid men and women mingling in public.

Grand Mufti Sheik Abdul-Aziz bin Abdullah al-Sheik said he was troubled by photographs from the meeting, published in newspapers on Monday, which showed male and female business leaders from the Middle East, including Queen Rania of Jordan, mixing together.

The Grand Mufti said: "What we saw at that meeting of the mixing of men and women, and the women's appearance without their hijab (head scarf), which is ordered by God, is forbidden.

"My pain is increased by such shameful behaviour," he added. "God curses the woman that imitates a man, whether in appearance, clothing or in the lifting of her voice. So how can she walk among them, mix with them, uncovered?"

Saudi Arabia forbids the mingling of men and women in public. Women must keep their bodies covered from head to toe, except for their faces and hands, when they are outside their homes.

A Saudi woman must be accompanied by a male guardian - her father, brother, son or husband - to go to a government office or a restaurant. Saudi women are not allowed to drive and they can be jailed for being in a vehicle with a man other than a guardian or a professional chauffeur.(AP)