Jewish Forward admits: Not a word Dershowitz says is true!

February 28, 2006

In News

By kathleen peratis

Al-Fatiha — which calls itself the principal
international organization promoting the rights
of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Arabs —
is located not in Beirut or Cairo, but in
Washington, D.C. And no wonder: The international
movement for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual
and transgender people hardly exists inside the
Muslim world.

Arab human rights organizations sometimes
advocate for gay rights, but they do so sotto
In fact, the only country in the Middle
East in which gay people may safely leave the
closet is Israel. Which is why, for gay
Palestinians, Tel Aviv is Mecca.

Gay Palestinian men flee to Israel because they
are not safe in the West Bank and Gaza. They also
have no place else to go.

“Israel is close and far at the same time,” says
Haneen Maikey, a gay rights activist with
Jerusalem Open House, one of the principal gay
rights organizations in Israel. If the sexuality
of a gay man in Palestine is exposed, his family
might torture or kill him and the police will
turn a blind eye.

Because they are so vulnerable to blackmail, it
is assumed by the families and neighbors of gay
Palestinian men — sometimes correctly — that they
have been blackmailed into becoming informers,
either for Israeli intelligence or for opposition
Palestinian factions. So when they meet a violent
end, the motivation of the killers is not
entirely clear.

And in Israel? Misinformation abounds. In a 2004
speech at the University of California, Berkeley,
Alan Dershowitz said: “I support Israel because I
support gay rights. Recently, a progressive
congressman, Barney Frank from Massachusetts,
worked with me and Israel to grant asylum for 40
Palestinian gays.”

Alas, not a word of this is true.

When gay Palestinian men run for their lives into
Israel, they do not seek — and they cannot get —
“asylum,” which is a special status under
international law available to those who can
establish a “well founded fear of persecution” in
the country of their nationality or “place of
habitual residence.” Israel has never granted
asylum to Palestinians, gay or not, says Anat
Ben-Dor of the Refugee Rights Clinic at the Tel
Aviv University Law Faculty — even those who can
credibly claim they will be killed if they are
sent back to the West Bank or Gaza. This is
because Israel interprets international asylum
law — the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status
of Refugees, which Israel has signed — as
inapplicable to Palestinian nationals.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
in Jerusalem advises any Palestinian seeking
asylum in Israel that he or she is ineligible to
apply. Nevertheless, in years past, West Bank
Palestinians were sometimes allowed official or
unofficial residence in Israel on any one of a
number of humanitarian grounds. These included
family reunification, medical treatment, fear of
persecution or because they were blessed with
high-profile friends. But not any more.

In 2002, Palestinians with Israeli identity cards
issued under family reunification laws allegedly
used that status to aid suicide bombers. The
Nationality and Entry Into Israel Law of 2003 was
quickly passed, effectively revoking the family
reunification laws and sharply limiting the
authority of even the interior minister to grant
residency permits to Palestinians.

Several petitions are pending in the Supreme
Court in Jerusalem challenging the law on
constitutional grounds, because there is no
exception for those with a well-founded fear of
persecution. (There is an exception for people
who “identify with the State of Israel and its
goals” and who “performed a material act to
advance the security” of the state — in other
words, collaborators — thus validating the common
suspicion among Palestinians.)

The new law, and the new reality, has led to a
crackdown on gay Palestinians in Israel,
according to Shaul Gonen, a former board member
of The Aguda, the largest of the Israeli lesbian,
gay, bisexual and transgender organizations. (The
few lesbians who flee move more easily under the
radar screen, aided by Aswat, an Israeli-Arab
organization for Palestinian lesbians.) Asylum
has always been out of the question, but now, no
official status is possible.

So gay Palestinians who make their desperate way
to Israel simply hope to disappear into the gay
subculture of Tel Aviv or Haifa. Slipping into
Israel is still not impossible, though it has
gotten harder. But with no money, no Hebrew, and
no employment, they sooner or later come to the
attention of the police, where they are arrested
or summarily expelled.

The best hope for the lucky few is unofficial and
temporary protection — weeks or a few months —
while an NGO seeks to arrange asylum in a third
country. But this is a long shot. In the three
years the Refugee Rights Clinic in Tel Aviv has
been operating, they have gotten third-country
asylum for a grand total of three gay
Palestinians, admits Ben-Dor.

Gonen estimates that since 1997, when the gay
rights organizations started counting, about 300
gay Palestinian men have come to Israel in the
hope of finding safety. Most came during the Oslo
years, and none have official residence status.
About 20, he says, are now under “house arrest”
or “area arrest,” which is “house arrest” with a
little extra latitude. The rest are either in
jail, have been summarily deported to an unknown
fate, or are still evading detection.

So what exactly was Dershowitz talking about? His
email reply to my email query was, “The reference
to working with Barney Frank is incorrect. Barney
Frank told [me] the story.”

As for Frank: He confessed to being Dershowitz’s
source, to getting things a little wrong, and to
confusing “house arrest” and “area arrest” with
“asylum” — a little like confusing slavery with
freedom. Frank did add that he intended to
address these issues with Israeli officials.

Sadly, the activists I spoke to saw no
alternative to the modest protection now afforded
by “area arrest,” and even suggested that outside
pressure might backfire. In the current climate,
Israel is not opening its doors to gay
Palestinians, period. Nothing personal. With more
sadness than outrage, the activists acknowledge
that erstwhile Palestinian asylum seekers in
Israel are simply further examples of collateral
damage in the ongoing Middle East tragedy.

Kathleen Peratis, a partner in the New York
law firm Outten & Golden, is a trustee of
Human Rights Watch.