LGBT in Israel/Palestine: Security or Resistance? Mobility or Visibility? (Panel Discussion Report)

Roy Wagner, PhD,
Cohn Institute for the
Philosophy and History
of Science and Ideas,
Tel Aviv University,
and Tal Arbel, Department
of the History
of Science, Harvard
University, presented
a panel discussion at
CLAGS on January 30,
2008. The following is
the panelists’ account
of the event.

although rarely is a connection drawn between queer issues and the ongoing
conflict in the Middle East, Roy Wagner and Tal Arbel argue that the
two are inextricably linked in the experience of LGBT people in Israel and
the occupied territories. For example, World Pride events scheduled to take place in
Jerusalem in 2005 were postponed to 2006 due to Israel’s so called “disengagement”
from Gaza. In 2006 the World Pride parade was canceled for two primary reasons:
LGBT opposition to celebrating “love without borders” in a place where Palestinians
are oppressed, and the war in northern Israel and Lebanon. The subsequent local pride
parade scheduled to take place in Jerusalem in November that year met with violent
demonstrations by local religious and right-wing groups. An Israeli Air Force attack
on Gaza that killed 19 Palestinians, and created a “national security alert” in fear of
Palestinian retaliation, led the organizers to replace the parade with a heavily guarded
stationary event in a confined stadium. As it turns out, LGBT visibility and national
politics in Israel are inseparable.
Wagner and Arbel’s concern was to understand LGBT community
and political action in Israel in the larger framework of the Israeli polity
where security and mobility restrictions dominate the discourse and
day to day life.
Tal Arbel focused her presentation on the political tumult surrounding
the November 2006 parade. According to the media’s meta-narrative,
the whole affair was yet another dramatic clash in the ongoing
battle fought between different cultural minorities over Jerusalem’s
identity and future – this time the gay community and its supporters
on one side and various religious, ultra-conservative and nationalist
right-wing groups on the other. But in contrast to this representation
of the “Jerusalem pride wars” as a dispute over values and world-views
internal to Jewish Israeli society, Arbel considered the events an important
example and actual contribution to an all-encompassing “securitization”
process affecting Israel’s political life in recent years – a process that is closely
related to restrictions in mobility across Israel/Palestine.
As part of this process, the Jerusalem Pride events were regarded by government
officials, the police, and the Supreme Court first and foremost as a “security problem”
requiring special measures. The “securitization” of the political debate over the
parade meant its reduction to mere technicalities and in many ways led to the physical
enclosure of the parade in a well-isolated compound, encircled by thousands of armed police officers, and governed by checkpoints – a political technology
imported from the other, “darker” side of Jerusalem and the
context of Israel’s alleged “war against terror.” If the organizers of
the events had escaped the substitution of security for freedom,
and had resisted the segregating and confining logic of security,
they could have perhaps helped Israeli civil society move beyond
the security epistemology that presides over its existence.
Increasingly in Israel, the language deployed within civil society
is characterized by concerns for “security.” Public discourse is
being dominated by security considerations, security terminology,
and a security-based articulation of social and political issues. Roy
Wagner’s presentation attempted to think of the implications
of this process in terms of the mobility and visibility of various
marginalized groups across Israel/Palestine. Given that the Israeli
governing logic dictates that Palestinians, gays, and even migrant
workers must be confined and restricted in order to maintain
public security, mobility across space becomes a challenge. One
of the ways to deal with the challenge is to reduce one’s visibility.
You have to avoid being seen, or at least avoid being seen as
someone whose movement should be restricted, in order to get
anywhere.
In such a situation, resistance is a matter of strategizing visibility
and mobility in ways that subvert State oppression. But
visibility and mobility are not simply epiphenomena. They are
part of who one is. Indeed, visibility has long been a tactic and
goal of a tactic and goal of LGBT organizing in the US. How
one is seen, where one can go, are identity-forming issues. Roy
Wagner reviewed how forming one’s life by strategizing mobility
and visibility affects Palestinians and sexual minorities in Israel/
Palestine, and how queer action can resist such oppression.
Starting from case studies demonstrating the obvious tradeoff
between mobility and visibility (one has to reduce one’s visibility
as someone who should be confined in order to be able to cross
through), Wagner problematized this tradeoff by demonstrating
its intricate implications. Wagner turned to explore queer ways
of attaining both visibility and mobility. Passing as someone else
is an obvious starting point. However, while the classical notion
of passing essentializes identity – one passes as someone whose
identity is different than one’s “true” identity – the exploration of
more sophisticated passing techniques accounts for multiple and
polymorphous layers of identity, culminating in performances of
anti-identitarian opacity and undecipherability.
We were happy to see so many activists in the audience, and
enjoyed the vibrant discussion following the two presentations.
The Q&A, however, became a little too centered on whether the
Jerusalem Open House (the organizers of pride events in Jerusalem)
made the right choices in holding the parade. Our point,
however, was that the Israeli civil society must not limit itself
to the logic and practice of “securitization” dominating Israeli
civil and political life. The Israeli society must expand the field of
choices available for civil action, and allow activists to make more
informed decisions.