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Pre-2008 Posts

Arab Lesbians Hold First Conference

Women Protesting Arab Lesbian Meeting

Arab lesbians gathered Wednesday in Haifa at a rare public event, quietly defying protests from Islamists and a taboo in their own society.

So strong is the antipathy toward homosexuality in their communities that only few of the Arab women in the crowd of about 250 were gay – a sign of how much Arab women feared being identified as lesbians, said Samira, 31, a conference organizer, who came with her Jewish Israeli girlfriend.

“We’d like all women to come out of the closet – that’s our role. We work for them,” said Samira, who battled her own family when they found out she was a lesbian.

Among Israel’s Arab citizens, who make up 20 percent of the country’s population, homosexuality is taboo to most.

Homosexuality is strictly forbidden by Islam, and a statement issued by a large Muslim group in Israel described it as a “cancer” in the Arab community.

Driven deep underground for the most part, only 10 to 20 Arab lesbians attended the conference, organizers said, and most blended in with their Israeli counterparts and Arab backers without making their presence known.

Poetry readings, music and Arab women rappers entertained the conference, called “Home and Exile in Queer Experience,” organized by Aswat, an organization for Arab lesbians, with members in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“We are here to say they (Arab lesbians) are not alone,” said Rawda Morcos, Aswat’s spokeswoman, one of a tiny minority of Arab women who are openly gay.

Some related painful experiences.

Samira, who has a dozen brothers and sisters, said she told a sibling she was gay two years ago. The news quickly spread among the family, and her 70-year-old mother fell into a depression, begging her daughter to change her ways.

But she eventually accepted her daughter’s homosexuality “in her own way,” by packing large boxes of food for Samira whenever she came to visit.

“My mother said, ‘take the food, for you and your girlfriend’,” Samira recalled, agreeing to be identified only by her first name for fear of reprisals.

Some of her family never came around. A pregnant sister told Samira she would “never touch her children.”

Rawda Morcos, Aswat’s spokeswoman, said she had her car smashed up regularly for months and received threatening phone calls at her family home when her village in northern Israel found out she was a lesbian.

Many of the attendees said they were sad that the only place safe enough to hold a conference for gay Arab women was in a Jewish area of Haifa, which has a mixed Arab-Jewish population.

“This conference is being held, somehow, in exile, even though it’s our country … but it’s not being held in Nazareth or Umm el-Fahm (two large Israeli Arab towns),” said Yussef Abu Warda, a playwright.

Outside the conference hall, 20 women protesters in headscarves and long, loose robes held up signs reading, “God, we ask you to guide these lesbians to the true path.” Khadijeh Daher, 35, described lesbianism as a “sickness.”

Security was tight. Attendance was by invitation only, and reporters were not allowed to take photographs, use tape recorders or identify people.

Even rapper Nahwa Abdul Aal, who performed for the gathering, didn’t support the gays. “Being at this conference hasn’t changed my mind,” she said. “I still think it’s wrong.”

Thanks to the Global Sisterhood Network for the heads up.




8 thoughts on “Arab Lesbians Hold First Conference

  1. Show me a country, state, community, creed or group that’s homophobic, and I’ll show you one that’s horrifically obsessed with manhood and deeply insecure about it and their own heterosexuality. This a recipe for disaster for women. And I’m not just talking about lesbians. Because these groups of men have something to prove. Not only to themselves but to each other. Which means they will feed off each other and will act with gang rape mentality.

    Such societies, cultures and groups of males will be obsessed with degrading, objectifying and fucking women in order to prove their manhood. Women will be neither here nor there. Because the ironic goal of these males is to impress each other with frenzied homo-erotic abandon.

    Let’s put it this way. I’ve never seen gayness brought to such heights as is evident among males under patriarchy. No woman could love them as much as they love themselves. Women are simply used as objects to display these men’s taboo love for each other.

    Posted by Luckynkl | March 29, 2007, 2:06 pm
  2. “Women are simply used as objects to display these men’s taboo love for each other.” Their anger and hatred towards women in direct proportion to their denial.

    Posted by Luckynkl | March 29, 2007, 2:21 pm
  3. I’ve never seen gayness brought to such heights as is evident among males under patriarchy.

    Preach it sister.

    In Annamarie Jagose Queer Theory, an Introduction Jagose basically dismisses Marilyn Frye’s assertion that all men hate women, including homosexuals because Frye does not provide enough deductive reasoning. HAH! Nevertheless, I do think Frye is on to something, but may not be able to explore it because the thought is instantly shut down the minute someone accuses one of homophobia.

    Jagose says talking about Frye:

    “Having established—more to her own satisfaction than mine—that heterosexual and gay cultures are unified in their love of men and their hatred of women, Frye (ibid.:140) goes on to outline the rationale behind compulsory male heterosexuality: ‘It is very important to the maintenance of male-supremacy that men fuck women, a lot. So it is required; it is compulsory. Doing it is both doing one’s duty and an expression of solidarity.’

    The discourse of gay liberation might appear opposed, or at least disloyal, to this requirement. However, while acknowledging that gay men are generally not interested in ‘doing [their] duty’ in this sense, Frye argues that it is only because they have an overdeveloped hatred for women:

    In many cases [gay men] are loath to do their duty only because they have learned all too well their lessons in women-hating. Their reluctance to play out this part of manhood is due only to an imbalance, where the requisite woman-hating has taken a form and intensity which puts it in tension with this other requirement of manhood. (ibid.)”

    Posted by chasingmoksha | March 29, 2007, 3:50 pm
  4. Hello all — I’m new to these blogs.
    ASWAT (the group that held this conference) is a group of Palestinian lesbians. I was fortunate to meet one of the organizers when she was here in the U.S. and spoke in Philadelphia (among other places). My understanding is that their network includes women who live in and are (Arab) citizens of Israel, as well as women who are living in the Palestinian territories under Israeli occupation. However, conditions are such that it is very difficult to organize and convene across the partitions and checkpoints that are used to keep Palestinians contained and controlled.

    I just wanted to make a couple of points – one is that not Palestinian Arabs are Muslim. Many are Christian. And many of both traditions are not religious. And the other is that this write-up emphasized the oppression experienced on religious grounds. While there is no doubt truth to this, I think it would be fair to say that the conditions and constraints experienced as a result of living under/alongside occupation (and the ways in which the occupation feeds and entrenches right-wing ideology on all sides) is a substantial part of the equation here.

    I’m wondering if anyone is aware of any press-releases or info being sent out by Aswat or participants from this conference…?

    Posted by Otter | March 29, 2007, 4:40 pm
  5. Welcome, Otter, and thanks for your comment, which sounds right on to me.

    I linked to Aswat, but for some reason, my link doesn’t work– I’ll fix it.

    Here is a link to the most recent posting on the ASWAT site, which is the agenda for the conference– no press release yet, but I am going to keep checking.


    Posted by womensspace | March 29, 2007, 4:43 pm
  6. Thanks for the link, Heart. I strongly recommend to anyone interested that you go and read their information about themselves, which is far more eloquent than I could be about the issues they are dealing with. Nothing else yet about the conference…

    Posted by Otter | March 29, 2007, 5:20 pm
  7. “…the oppression experienced on religious grounds…”

    Very good points, Otter. The tyranny of Israeli occupation shouldn’t be overlooked here. I get nervous whenever I see Islam pointed out as uniquely oppressive anyway. All religious fundamentalism is oppressive.

    “Homosexuality is strictly forbidden by Islam”

    Though this may be true, it is misleading in a way because ANY form of adultery is forbidden under strict interpretations of Islam. It bothers me since women often get executed for adultery or accusations of sexual impropriety in strict Islamic societies, but it doesn’t get as much press as the persecution of gays (which mostly affects guess who: men!)

    From what I understand, I’m not sure that lesbianism is considered homosexuality under Sharia law. I know that sounds odd to many identity-minded Americans, but in many cultures sex is defined as male penetration. Female-female relations would not really count as sex.

    I do know that ALL women who try to live outside patriarchal marriage get oppressed in conservative societies, whether as lesbians or as single women. And I’m sure lesbians who are open about it are especially condemned.

    In any case, these women are amazing and I totally respect and admire their efforts to right injustice.

    Posted by roamaround | March 31, 2007, 3:07 am
  8. Yeah, roamaround, really good points, yours, too, otter. It’s similar with conservative Christianity as far as lesbianism goes; lesbianism isn’t considered “adultery”– only married het people can commit adultery. Lesbianism would be considered something like fornication, but similar to what you’ve said about Islam, lesbian sex isn’t always considered sex by conservative Christians because no penis is involved; it’s considered something along the lines of “uncleanness.” There is no word for lesbianism in the Christian Bible, and there is only one reference to it, and it’s obscure, “Even their women gave up the natural use and burned with lust one for another.” So then there are all of these machinations and dancings on the head of a pin about what the “natural use” really might consist of; Christian lesbians, for example, say that being lesbians is their “natural use” and that being het would be sinful for them; whereas mainline evangelicals generally say the only “natural use” for anybody is het sex. (Leaving aside for the moment the issue of calling sex, “use”)(!!). Which is all free fer nuttin and is just to agree with you that when we are talking about fundamentalisms, these issues are complex.


    Posted by womensspace | March 31, 2007, 4:12 am

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