Articles // No Queer “Co-Resistance” with Colonizers: Confronting Normalization and Pinkwashing

No Queer “Co-Resistance” with Colonizers: Confronting Normalization and Pinkwashing

Today, a virtual seminar, titled “Decolonizing Queerness: Towards A Palestinian-Israeli Co-Resistance,” was held to promote the work of Palestinian academic Sa’ed Atshan. Organizied by an Israeli researcher, the event was framed as a discussion about “the reality and the dilemmas that queer Palestinian organizations […] are facing.”  The webinar was promoted on Facebook, primarily in English and Hebrew, using vague, general descriptions. It featured one Arabic sentence: a translation of the title. The description noted that the event was “not funded, sponsored by, or connected to any institution or group,” which may have served as a loophole to escape the normalization guidelines put in place by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions movement (BDS).

The webinar’s framing and content prompted condemnation and dismay among alQaws activists and friends, leading us to develop a response. This event was preceded by Atshan’s increasing engagement in normalization activities in recent years. We’ve often approached organizing parties and Atshan himself with concerns regarding such events, only to be rejected or ignored. Our intention is both to challenge the individuals that participate in such harmful initiatives and to highlight their negative impact on the queer Palestinian movement. 

Confronting these situations puts us in an awkward position. We understand that political organizing for queer liberation requires intellectual diversity and strategic plurality. Yet our experiences as a grassroots Palestinian organization have also driven home the danger of events such as this. To understand the threat they pose, we first must understand how such events rely on two harmful discourses that undermine Palestinian communities: normalization and pinkwashing. 

In alliance with anti-colonial coalitions, alQaws developed and popularized the concept of “pinkwashing” to expose how Israel and its defenders use the language of LGBTQ rights to distract from the oppression of Palestinians. Over the years, Palestinian activists came to recognize that pinkwashing is not simply an outward-facing propaganda machine—it is a direct form of colonial violence, one that pushes Palestinians to view ourselves and our communities through the lens of colonial prejudice.

Much like pinkwashing, “normalization” also distorts our understanding of the colonizer’s inherently supremacist relationship to the colonized. Normalization is broadly defined as any effort to naturalize the settler-colonial reality by obscuring the colonial power dynamic. Both pinkwashing and normalization promote the belief that the Palestinian reality can only be understood in reference to Israelis, who are positioned as our “saviors,” or in this event, as our “co-resistors.” Crucially, within this framework, there is no room for autonomous and independent Palestinian resistance.

Atshan’s approach, which is also promoted in his recent book, reveals a deep alienation from the priorities and convictions of the Palestinian queer movement, which can and does exist without the patronage of queer settlers. Independence from colonial civil society is necessary to meaningfully address gender and sexuality issues within Palestinian society. Proposing “co-resistance” between queers on opposing sides of the colonial divide relies on a shallow identitarian framework that ignores that formative and innate differences that prohibit such resistance. It also upholds pre-existing structures of power and privilege that hinder queer Palestinian life.

Pinkwashing relies on exploiting progressive rhetoric about “tolerance” and “gay rights,” to conceal the violent nature of the occupation and settler-colonialism in Palestine. Normalization, similarly, draws on liberal ideals of “dialogue” and “partnership.” Atshan’s event goes the extra mile: harnessing the language of “queerness,” “decolonization,” and “resistance”—while simultaneously throwing the deeply-entrenched complexity of colonization out of the window and draining these terms of their political significance by situating them in a normalizing framework.

Pinkwashing has long sought to identify queerness with a colonial identity, which is why events such as this provoke strong reactions and demand principled responses. We must heed the danger that events such as this webinar pose to the queer Palestinian movement and the communal and transnational conversations that have been built around it. Demands for co-resistance actively work against the struggle to decolonize sexuality; they distract from the political transformations alQaws has realized in direct opposition to settler-colonial institutions over the past decade. 

AlQaws activists and allies alike have been continuously disappointed to see Atshan and others contribute to pinkwashing and normalization by distorting queer Palestinian rhetoric, and call on them to put a end to such harmful approaches. Only by listening closely to the demands of Palestinian activists and organizations on the ground, who work tirelessly to create new possibilities for life and resistance, can we develop an approach to queer anti-colonial struggle that responds to the pressing needs of our movement.