Time Out Tel Aviv journalist Eyal Migdalovich tried to check up on gay Palestinians during the continuing tension in the area- and he did it through Grindr.
Usually gay dating apps create an alienated space, where it doesn’t matter what your characteristics are- only the width of your shoulders. But when you’re a loose Tel Aviv gay and he’s a Palestinian, the style of chat changes, especially if you are speaking in a time when the conflict becomes particularly violent and there’s growing anger in the streets.
Grindr is a distance-based dating app, so in order to get to know gay people from the other side of the boundaries, fake GPS is required. Across the board, no one is identified by name and no one displays a picture. The second condition is almost essential to get casual sex easily – they are all in the closet. “We can at least make love and teach each other to live in peace, right?” wrote N. a few days after the violence began in Jerusalem. “I send my love, we will have faith and hope for a better time.” I invited him over for a beer in Tel Aviv, but alcohol and conversation are probably not a good enough excuse to get a permit to enter Israel.
A. was less patient when I asked about his welfare in recent days. “I can answer you with a different question: what was it like in occupied Palestine (1948) ? This is our land, I’m done here, if you want peace we will live together as one nation without a name,” he wrote. “By the way, I use this app for fun, not for political criticism”. When I tried to comprehend the situation of homosexuals in the Palestinian Authority these days, he emphasized: “Even if I was straight I would keep my sex life a secret. Palestinians are non-violent, their life is difficult, it’s normal in these limitations. But honestly, man, I’m here for fun. If you want to have sex with me, we can talk more in bed, otherwise I’m done.”
The stabbing attack near the Kirya in Tel Aviv aroused empathy among Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, and he was quick to ask what is happening now in the city. He expressed the hope that everything will be over soon. Other Palestinians didn’t care that I was a Jew from Israel and certainly did not care that I was from Tel Aviv – he went straight to the point and asked if I was top or bottom and if I could get to Ramallah.
“Palestinian law doesn’t have anything against homosexuals,” said Khader Abu Seif, an LGBT activist from Jaffa. “Actually, gays are allowed to marry in Palestine. There is nothing in the law that prevents gay couples from marrying, apart from their families.”
In other words, LGBTQ Palestinians are not being persecuted by the authorities, but Palestinian society finds zero tolerance for LGBT people, and they are forced to live in secret. However, there are two LGBT Palestinian organizations: Aswat (Voices), a Palestinian women’s organization that works in Israel; and alQaws (rainbow) – a Palestinian activist organization Lhtb”ki in Ramallah.
While more Arab Israelis are coming out as gay and lesbian, especially in Jaffa and Haifa, the situation in the Palestinian authority is different. Although Ramallah is considered the Tel Aviv of the Palestinian Authority, designated places for gays are underground and it’s not allowed to mention their names. In Sh’chem the situation is more difficult, but the biggest problem is in the villages – where there’s much more stress and there’s no place to hide. Everyone knows everyone, and if you want to escape to Ramallah it would be very easy to track you. The family will chase you and the police won’t stop them except in exceptional cases. About Gaza there’s no need to talk, from there everyone wants to escape.
So, yes, I was unable to advance a peace initiative or cross-border-and-conflict gay gathering – yet it’s Grindr we’re dealing with here, not the Peres Center for Peace – but who knows, maybe Chicholina was right, and casual sex is indeed a bridge over troubled waters? In the meantime, we take comfort in all of the users who welcomed us and hoped that we could live together. There was even one who asked for forgiveness.