(Updated September 2008)

(1) ‘Zero Degrees of Separation’ film documents suffering of Palestine and Israel gays

‘Zero Degrees of Separation’ is a feature length documentary (still in progress as of June 03) examining a unique and complex relationship between two lovers and two nations from different worlds often less than 3 kms apart. Selim and Ezra, a gay Palestinian-Israeli couple, are fighting for the right to live together in Jerusalem. Through their lives and those of other gay and lesbian Palestinians and Israelis we gain a unique perspective on the Middle-East conflict. In a world where borders create and destroy lives daily , the people portrayed in Zero Degrees take on the larger questions of nationalism and its flaws. As Israeli-Palestianian couples exisiting on the the margins of their societies, these individuals cross those borders sometimes physically, sometimes metaphorically defying the notion of an external conflict with impermeable borders. Zero Degrees is about what is possible and impossible; a story that finds humanity in a time where little else seems to exist.

To watch this documentary is to feel suffocated and oppressed–which is perhaps a success for the director in her unflinching intention to see inside the pain and grief currently blanketing the Holy Land, now made very unholy by the intense hostility in the streets and political hallways. ‘Zero Degrees of Separation’ feels like a voyeur’s intrusion on a deadly family argument that no one should see.

The Palestinian-Israeli war is ugly, violent, divisive and humiliating. Caught in the black hole of hatred are many LGBT citizens of both cloths. As they speak before an impersonal lens their words are sad, mournful–lost in violence and antagonism. Lesbian feminists and a gay Palestinian-Israeli male couple are caught in the crossfire of bullets, occupation, suicide bombers, rocket attacks, arrest and extremist politics. The passion and freedom and easy sensuality taken for granted by many western queers is here forbidden territory.

Ezra and Salim possess a love for each other that transcends their racial and religious heritages but this love is gripped by danger and threats from both camps. Salim is a Muslim Palestinian, now disowned by his family in Ramallah since he came out to them. He cannot return home as he could face death. To be gay in that culture is to be “Lu’ot”, to be cursed. Yet to be in Israel is to be an illegal alien, in and out of various jails for the past several years. “These are the schools for teaching more hatred and violence as victims learn well how to victimize in return,” he says. “The only way to rescue yourself from being a victim is to victimize others. So the teaching goes.” But Salim refuses to be sucked into that political black hole. His love for Ezra is a small but piercing light in the darkness, a glimmer of what life could be like in the Holy Land.

Ezra is alienated from many of his gay Israeli friends and peers (in Tel Aviv for example) who celebrate Gay Pride festival under rainbow balloons and western-style music and tight bright pants. “Tel Aviv gays are apolitical, they are into assimilation.” Ezra cannot understand this sort of life—assimilation into Euro-American lifestyle. “For what? We are not Europe and we are not America. We need to find our own voice and form. We don’t dress or act like that,” he declares seriously and with fatigue.

He refuses any celebration as long as Israel occupies and oppresses Palestinians in their own territory. His world is filled with daily shots of hostility, arrest, search-and-destroy warriors, bullets and senseless slaughter of innocents on both sides. His words are slow and infused with unbearable heaviness and near hopelessness for a peaceful hearth where he and Salim can relax in each other’s arms, invite friends for dinner or walk easily through the streets of Jerusalem. He cannot feel peace in his heart when he knows others—Palestinians and Israelis—are suffering. The right way is to work actively against all oppression— racial, religious, political–toward women, gays, any minority including refugees.

The film also interviews lesbian feminist activists–a very endanged type in Palestine. Feminism too is another curse, says one of the women Ruada sadly. Her heart is obviously hurt as she speaks about the oppressed condition of women in Palestine. As an activist in her culture she laments the loss of personal identity in the struggle against violence. There is no other right choice in Palestine for women outside the rigid role assigned by Islamic fundamentalists, outside of subservient marriage and prolific motherhood, outside the litany of hate for Israel.

In a discussion which followed the screening in New York at the LGBT Film Festival in June 03, additional points were made in referencee to Zero Degrees:

Black Laundry is a politically active LGBT organization in Israel working actively against oppression. They bother the “pink party types” who want music, style and cell phones on the way to the gym. While they dance, Black Laundry (also translates as ‘black sheep’) does anti-occupation work.

The West Bank is different from Gaza; Gaza is very torn up from attacks. Life is at the level of survival so virtually no LGBT work is possible there. Gay peoplethere try desperately to escape, but to where? They face torture if it’s discovered they’re gay, and Israel refuses entry to Palestinians now. The agony of trapped lesbians and gays in Gaza is horrifying.

In Jerusalem there is Open House, an LGBT organization that has a Palestinian Coordinator offering information—counseling and literature in Arabic– but with no influence or power to help.

The director of Zero Degrees, Ellen Flanders, will continue filming when she raises more funds. Already the Canadian Film Board has been very generous she said. She can be reached at: zerodegreesfilm@aol.com.

A Graphic pictures production (zerodegreesfilm@aol.com)
June 2003
By Richard Ammon,

(2) Isn’t That Queer-Israeli and Palestinian LBGTs Celebrate, Drink and Talk in One Club–Along with Black Laundry

Almost 2 years of bitter fighting, trust between Israelis and Palestinians has never been lower. But in a packed, smoky nightclub on the edge of Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim district, the gay communities from both sides still bridge the growing divide, breaking down racial and political barriers as Jews and Arabs defy traditional stereotypes and threats of suicide bombers.

While tensions are high in the rest of the country, Laila’s remains the only nightclub where Israeli Jews clap enthusiastically side by side with Palestinian Arabs. Does the fact that these revelers are gay, lesbian or bisexual have anything to do with their mutual tolerance? Absolutely.

“Here we don’t care where you are from or who you are, Jew or Arab. That’s what characterizes the gay world,” says Johnny, a Christian Palestinian Arab from East Jerusalem wearing a tight white shirt and stylish jeans as a Jewish friend greets him with a kiss.

“I have 10 children,” says Simo, an ultra-orthodox Jew wearing a black suit and yarmulke, as he pulls out photos to show Johnny and Amir, the Arabs sitting near the bar with him. “I raise them to believe that all people are the same.”

“No one is prejudiced, you feel very free here,” says Rotem, a 19-year-old Israeli. Simo agrees: “As a religious man … I feel more comfortable to come to this place than to go to a straight place. I love my wife, but I do have a slight attraction to men.” Despite his attraction, Simo admits, “I’m scared to realize my fantasy of being with one.”

Simo, Johnny, Amir and Rotem sit together in the hot dark nightclub talking about their belief in God as Kylie Minogue blares in the background. “I used to be religious,” says Amir, who has a goatee and wears a tight red shirt. “I prayed five times a day at the Dome of the Rock mosque. I tried for two years to be religious [and not gay], but it was a waste of time. I’m proud to be gay and have been for the last 10 years. This is the way God made me.”

But the political reality outside Laila’s divides these four. Because of severe Israeli security measures, Palestinians are having increasing difficulty coming to downtown Jerusalem, where Laila’s and the Open House, a gay support center, are located. Even those from East Jerusalem, who are considered “permanent residents” of Israel, have trouble passing the newly erected military checkpoints on their side of the city.

Yet despite the checkpoints, many take the trouble to get to Laila’s anyway. “Palestinians feel good to come here because they don’t get harassed,” says club owner Avi Specter, a Jew from Germany who immigrated six years ago. Specter and his wife, Ann Marie, opened the place because he has “many gay friends in Europe who complained when they visited Israel that there are no gay bars in the city. It was our idea to make this place for all kinds of people.”

The first ever Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade took place last June, attended by more than 4,000 people. Despite threats of attacks by ultra-Orthodox Jews, who opposed having a gay celebration in the holy city, the event highlighted the connection between Jewish and Arab gays and the occupation of the Palestinian Territories—even though very few Arabs showed up.

Yasser, 31, a father of three from the Old City, explains why: “The Arabs are scared of being filmed on TV and being seen. Our families don’t know we are gay and that we are here.”

A group of 50 women and men wore black shirts with pink writing in Arabic and Hebrew that said “Black Laundry against the occupation, in favor of social justice.” Founded in Tel Aviv last year, “Black Laundry” members directly connect their sexual tendencies with their fight for Palestinian freedom.

“We protest against the festive nature of the pride parade [because they’re] doing it while the occupation is going on. Pride is a political thing. We can’t celebrate our freedom while other groups are oppressed,” explains Gali, 22, a lesbian from Tel Aviv wearing the Black Laundry shirt and fishnet stockings.

Anat, a 27-year-old lesbian from Tel Aviv and a founder of Black Laundry, adds: “There is a connection between our oppression as lesbians, homosexuals and the oppression of the Palestinians. Since the intifada, the city of Jerusalem is covered with posters and graffiti saying ‘Expel the Arabs.’ Yesterday the city was covered with graffiti saying ‘Expel the homosexuals.’ I don’t want this [parade] to be a fig leaf for the abuses of human rights. A few kilometers from here there are people under siege, people who are hungry.”

Black Laundry web site is http://www.joannestle.com/livingrm/gila/gila020407blacklaundry.html

By Orly Halpernfter
August 16, 2002
In These Times ( http://www.inthesetimes.com/issue/26/21/culture2.shtml )

Also see:
Islam and Homosexuality
Gay Palestine News & Reports 2001 to present