TEL AVIV, Israel — Gloria Gaynor’s anthem “I Will Survive” is never out of place in a gay setting, but something about it was different on this particular night.
The words were coming through in Arabic instead of English, the uplifting disco beat resounding against the ancient walls of the club housed in a mixed neighborhood where the Arab city of Jaffa blends into the edges of modern Tel Aviv.
Conflict still rules the region, a complex and bloody dispute about land, history and religion decades in the making, but at the Palestinian Queer Party, music takes precedence and peace rules the room.
Held every six weeks or so, the party demonstrates what is possible with gays in charge, say those who attend.The majority of the crowd at the party are gay Palestinians living within the borders set after Israel’s victory over Arab forces in 1948 — officially called Arab-Israelis — but about a third are Israeli Jews. West Bank Palestinians have also been known to cross the separation wall to mingle and dance here, risky a trip as that might be. Once they are among fellow gays, these Palestinians can often hide from Israeli authorities in plain sight.
“If gays were controlling the world, we wouldn’t have any more war,” says Yoni Schoenfeld, the openly gay editor-in-chief of Bamahane, the official magazine of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), sitting in his office in Tel Aviv and commenting unofficially.
Tel Aviv has been voted the most gay-friendly city in the world and has even been called the “Mecca” for gay Palestinians, but rights advocates say the good press is actually a mask covering Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in general, considered by many human rights organizations and observers to be a persecuted group.
(Continue reading — Gay Palestinians caught in the middle of the conflict)