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alQaws Fall Newsletter: August 2019, Our Next Phase of Queer Organizing in Palestine

At the beginning of each new season of the year, we send our friends and allies a newsletter describing alQaws’ most important news and achievements. The last few months were exceptional for us, so much so that we realize we have opened a new chapter for our organization and its journey. We share with you here a summary of events and recent developments, particularly during the month of August 2019.

With the end of July came the arrival of unfortunate news about the stabbing of a 16-year-old teen from the galilee town of Tamra. The youth was stabbed by his brother near a shelter for LGBT youth because of his sexual orientation/ gender identity. The event was the subject of considerable debate in Palestinian society, leading to a first-of-its-kind demonstration, led by alQaws in partnership with various queer and feminist institutions. Al-Aseer Square – a place in Haifa - filled with more than 200 people, and more than thirty Palestinian institutions signed a statement condemning violence towards people with different sexual and gender orientations.

People who showed up, shared the calls to action, and raised their voices were participating in a clear and visible rejection of any and all forms of violence towards LGBTQ people in Palestine.

The debate continued in the public sphere, media, and social media, drawing considerable attention to issues of sexual and gender diversity in general, and representing a major leap for our work and for alQaws’ emergent role in Palestinian society,

Our activists and staff put forth tremendous efforts to organize and lead the demonstration, as well as engage in the ensuing online discussions. Despite channeling so much of our energy toward an unexpected series of events that required our swift, proactive leadership, we continued our ongoing and planned work during this time. After two years of steady work in the city of Nablus with a cohesive group, we held Hawamesh forum for the first time there. We also announced an open call for registering for our first queer youth camp, holding off on publishing the venue. Although we had publicly announced our events in Nablus before, as in other areas, after we posted the queer youth camp event people posted abusive and violent attacks on social media, especially after the increased visibility and the increase in followers resulting from the demonstration in Haifa.

alQaws, our work, and especially the meeting in Nablus and the queer youth camp became the topic of the hour on social media. The wave of violent popular hype culminated in a statement from the Palestinian Authority police announcing a ban on our activities and explicitly called on citizens to complain about any “suspicious” activities and for the persecution of alQaws staff and activists. The police statement lent dangerous legitimacy to the social violence and stoked calls for prosecution, threats, and harm to our institution, our activists, or even anyone perceived as having a different sexual and gender orientation.

Many people have repeated and emphasized that the police ultimately withdrew their statement, while some questioned us about whether we have any legal ground to work in the West Bank in the first place. These points distract from the fundamental issue of illegal and unjust police incitement against a Palestinian group. Despite outcry from Palestinian society and allies throughout the region and world in response to their statement and threats, the police did not in fact explicitly declare the statement withdrawn, nor did they address its illegality publicly. Our work - both before and after the police statement - is legal; it is no different than the work of many other Palestinian organizations and groups that do not require a license or registration to work in Palestine under Palestinian law.

Throughout this experience of enduring violence and abuse, we have received a lot of love and support, first and foremost from the great grassroot community base that alQaws has formed through its work over the past decade. Many Palestinian civil society institutions and movements joined in this show of support. Three published statements denounced the police ban on our work, affirming our right to work and the illegality of the police statement. The first  statement was published by the Human Rights Organizations Council, which includes more than ten Palestinian human rights institutions, while the second was from Palestinian civil society organizations and coalitions from different fields and areas, and the third was from the forum of Palestinian NGOs to combat violence against women.

The societal violence against us and against the issues we work on is not new or strange to us, but the new and dangerous development in the last month was its transformation into physical form and concrete action, both in the case of the stabbing incident and in the statement of the Palestinian police.

Triggered by these recent events, issues of sexual and gender diversity during the past month were present in homes, streets, workplaces, and we have seen a great media interest, including on social media, where we took advantage of the opportunity to explore new audiences and new followers.

We could not ignore the paradigm shift that seemed to have occurred overnight in the media coverage during these events, which was evident in the media’s broad coverage of the events and issues as well as in the more neutral terminology used—this was true even in the police statement intended to incite fear and intimidation. In our view, this change reflects the impact of alQaws’ discourse and its work in recent years. Highlights and materials on the topic - both Arabic and English -can be found below.

Soon after these events, and not far from our society, our cause, or our struggle, the whole Arab world became preoccupied with the case of Esraa Ghrayyib, re-opening discussions on issues of violence against women, and the fight against patriarchy, which we see as one of our main struggles in order to make real progress on issues of sexual and gender diversity.


We are happy to share with you our main achievements and activities that we have held in the last three months:

Introductory Meetings in Ramallah and Haifa

At the beginning of July, we held two introductory meetings at the offices of alQaws in Ramallah and Haifa, each of which was attended by about ten people from different areas, as these cities are the centers that bring together people from all surrounding and nearby areas.

The meetings focused on alQaws activities, its efforts to achieve societal change, and the participants’ opportunities to contribute to and engage in our organizing according to their desires, abilities, and needs. These meetings aim to provide a safe environment for LGBTQ people in Palestine to get to know alQaws work first hand, and explore ways to engage in the work.


AlQaws’ Queer Wikipedia

One of our summer’s most important activities was organizing a “Queer Wikipedia Training” that brought together more than 10 activists interested in the issues of sexual and gender diversity and the development of knowledge about them, whether they are alQaws activists, friends and allies, or even people who joined our activities for the first time. This was a training in writing and editing on the Wikipedia platform to enrich the Arab content related to sexual and gender-based issues, especially content related to alQaws work and the Palestine context. With new visibility and attention to our work and these issues, this project’s importance has exponentially increased, as Wikipedia is one of the more important accessible knowledge resources in the world today.

More information about training can be found here


AlQaws Training: Annual Institutional Training in Ramallah

This year we held our 5th annual training of civil society organizations in Ramallah, attended by 14 people from more than 8 different institutions working in several areas. This training is part of a total of 100 training hours we have provided since the beginning of the year. Read more.


A new team of volunteers for Al-Khat

By the end of August, a new volunteer training course for alQaws’ “AlKhat - Listening and Information Hotline” was completed. Eight participants from different geographical areas completed a course of 12 meetings to prepare them to start their volunteering at the end of this month.

The course, which we are holding for the ninth time since 2010, covered topics such as basic concepts in sexual identity and sexual and gender diversity issues, as well as listening and dialogue skills so that volunteers can deal with the variety of issues raised by callers. The recent violent events that we witnessed prompted us to open a space to address it inside the training and link it with AlKhat’s work.

This training course comes at a new and promising stage in the work of AlKhat, which was reflected in the increasing visibility and reach that we achieved last month. In the third week of August we extended the working hours of the hotline - from two to four days a week, in order to respond to the large number (on average we received 10-15 calls each shift during August) of callers reaching out to us.


New alQaws Fellowship Program

This summer, we launched a fellowship pilot program for Palestinian LGBTQ people living outside Palestine who are interested in being involved in alQaws’ political work and helping achieve our vision for change. This program allows us to more deeply engage our allies and friends, and to learn and benefit from their diverse experiences and expertise.

The first fellowship ran throughout June, July, and August 2019, and we plan to run the program during the summer of each year (look for our 2020 fellowship announcement on social media during fall 2019), in the offices of alQaws in Palestine, where participants undertake different projects and tasks according to their abilities and experience.

This fellowship program began this year with the work of writing the lyrics of alQaws’ new musical production (Ghanni 3an el Ta3reef), as well as the completion of a workshop in writing in Jerusalem, and the organization of an alQaws activity in the United States in the coming period.


Links to a selection of English and Arabic media materials covering the August events: