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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 October, 2003, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
Palestinian gays flee to Israel
Israeli wall
The Palestinian gays feel safer on the other side of the border
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.

Gay pride in Jerusalem
Jerusalem has had two Gay Pride marches in the last two years
"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.

Palestinian militant
The gays are afraid of militant retribution if they return
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."

'Against Allah'

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."

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