Bashar Murad is a Palestinian queer artist and activist. He lives in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem, but his fame and work have long gone beyond the borders of his hometown. In 2021, I interviewed Murad, who writes songs and performs on topics such as social norms, gender/sexuality, the Israeli occupation, and LGBTQI+ rights, to tell Velvele readers what he had witnessed during the days when Israel tried displacing Palestinians living in Sheikh Jarrah. Our conversation spanned from what Israel’s unlawful actions in Sheikh Jarrah to pinkwashing, and the importance of the Palestinian struggle. Unfortunately, what the musician told us two years ago is still valid today. Nowadays, those who justify Israel’s unapologetic and deliberate ethnic cleansing in Gaza often direct deliberate and manipulative questions to LGBTQI+ people who support the Palestinian struggle, so, we decided to translate our interview with Bashar Murad, which originally appeared in Turkish, into English.
At this moment, Palestinians are isolated and most countries are criminalizing showing support to the Palestinian struggle. As we are re-publishing this interview, we would like to emphasize that we stand with the Palestinians and against the Israeli occupation.
Israel’s displacement of Palestinians has been well-documented. Sheikh Jarrah is the newest chapter of this history. Can you tell us a little bit of what is going on in Sheikh Jarrah that we don’t see in the news?
These forced expulsions are part of Israel’s strategy to limit the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem in order to claim full sovereignty over it. Two amazing Palestinian siblings who are one of the families being expelled started the hashtag #savesheikhjarrah and mobilized us all to defend our home. I also live in Sheikh Jarrah and have been witnessing the recent events first hand. Peaceful protestors have been coming to the neighborhood singing, praying, having Ramadan iftars with the threatened families. Israeli settlers have also been coming to Sheikh Jarrah under the protection of the Israeli military. As soon as we start singing, or chanting, or raising a Palestinian flags, the Israeli forces start to attack the protestors including Palestinians who are men, women, children, Muslim, Christian, Atheist and Queer. The disproportionate violence has been so heartbreaking to see. The way that the military is oppressing, shooting, arresting my friends, family, neighbors, and Palestinians in general has been disgusting. Sheikh Jarrah is a sample of how Israel was created on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from this land.
I live in Sheikh Jarrah and to the backdrop of the screams of my neighbors and fellow Palestinians running from rubber bullets, soldiers riding steroid-induced horses, the stench of skunk water, stun grenades and live bullets that the military has been using to deter protestors. Today I don’t know what I need to fear: The Israeli military, the armed settlers, or the lynch mobs looking to kill Arabs, or the chants of “Death To Arabs” that I hear in my neighborhood before I sleep. Today we feel like there is no one to protect us here and this is why we are reaching to the world that will hopefully see this injustice and finally step in.
As the events in Sheikh Jarrah and the following attacks on Palestinians have unraveled, the mainstream debate has been plagued by either anti-Arab or anti-Jewish sentiments. Criticizing the Israeli state’s policies is equated with anti-Semitism and support for the Palestinian struggle is deemed as the approval of jihadists.What are your thoughts of this limitation as a Palestinian individual?
First of all we here are Palestinians, we’re not the Arabs of Israel. Call us by our name. Israel has always been successful at denying the existence of Palestinians. There’s a big difference between Judaism and Zionism. We are speaking up against the policies of the Israeli State which are based on systematic oppression, discrimination, and racism against Palestinians. This is a fight for human rights and the equality the West loves to preach about. You cannot pick and choose who human rights apply to and you cannot build a country that favors one group of people over the other and even create laws to legitimize it. Israel has recently passed the discriminatory Nation State Law which specifies the nature of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. This place is holy to the three monotheistic religions, why would one have an authority over the others? Why would the Israeli Military attack Palestinian Muslim worshipers with stun grenades and rubber bullets at Al Aqsa Mosque? Why would they oppress Palestinian Christians who are trying to get to the Holy Sepulchre during the week of Easter? Also in these protests I have seen many Jews and Israelis who are joining Palestinians in the calls to end the occupation, to cut military funding to Israel, to stop ethnically cleansing Palestians. Are they also anti-Semitic? Are they self-hating Jews?
The international media starts reporting about Palestine after Hamas shoots a rocket. However this story doesn’t start here and has been going on for 73 years now. One cannot put the oppressor and the oppressed on the same level. Israel is one of the strongest militaries in the world that is, according to international law, occupying East Jerusalem.
Pro-Israel critics of queers supporting Palestine often use the popular argument of “Israel supports the LGBTQI+ people as the most democratic country in the Middle East.” It could be said that the Tel Aviv Pride, public relations campaigns and a budget of millions of dollars are working for Israel’s favor. What would you like to say about Israel’s pinkwashing? Is Israel really “the most democratic country in the Middle East?” How real is Israel’s queer friendly face which is turned towards the West? Or whose Israel is “that Israel?”
Israel has been so successful at brainwashing the International queer community into thinking that it is a safe haven for queers and queer Palestinians. However, I have witnessed with my own eyes their brutality against my queer friends who have been arrested, attacked, and stepped on by soldiers in scenes very reminiscent to George Floyd. Israel claims that it is a feminist and queer friendly country. However, it is attacking Palestinian women and queers who are in Gaza, Jerusalem, 1948 Palestine, and the West Bank. The military does not stop to ask if the person they are about to attack is queer; there have been many videos surfacing from Sheikh Jarrah by citizen journalists of women being hit, dragged by their hijabs, and arrested. Weaponizing our sexualities in order to justify oppression is evil. We are Palestinian queers living in Palestine and we are saying that we don’t believe in these pinkwashing strategies.
You co-produced “Klefi/Samed” with Hatari who represented Iceland at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2019. This song became really popular and you performed in Iceland and other European countries together. How did this collaboration happen? How do you think this project contributed to the Palestinian queer community and to you as a queer Palestinian artist?
I met Hatari on Skype before they participated in Eurovision because they were interested in speaking to Palestinian artists. I had read in articles that they chose to participate in the Eurovision Contest held in Tel Aviv to make a protest statement against the occupation. So I decided to continue my conversation with them which ended up in the collaboration on the “Klefi/ Samed.” It was important for me to make a disruption in the bubble of Eurovision and Tel Aviv because both promote themselves as a place of unity and love, except when it comes to Palestine. It was important for me to remind those attending and performing at Eurovision that they are dancing on the graves of the millions of Palestinians displaced and that by holding this event in Tel Aviv would be normalizing the oppression of my people.
Why should queer people support the Palestinian struggle? Why is it important for you?
The fight for the freedom of Palestine is intersectional. It is a feminist issue, a queer issue, racial justice issue. Soldiers don’t stop to ask Palestinians if they are queer before attacking them. They attack indiscriminately and we are all receiving collective punishment. It does not stop to check whether there are kids or women or gay people before bombing Gaza. In fact there have been many videos of soldiers attacking my friends, dragging women by their hijabs, stepping on their necks and pinning them to the ground. Oppression does not discriminate.
Tel Aviv is painted as the haven for queers in the Middle East. This is an example of using the queer community in order to justify the oppression of Palestine, and unfortunately the world believes fake reality. As queer Palestinians, we demand that our sexuality not be weaponized. If you fight for feminism, BLM, queer liberation, then it would be hypocritical to not support Palestine.
My message to the world is that we are here fighting for the liberation of ALL in Palestine, and we are tired of the world believing the pinkwashing of Israel’s crime at our expense.
I remember when I went to college in the US the first week I went to Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball in DC. She taught me about self love and to unapologetically be myself. She preached about equality and fighting injustice, she fought against “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” she campaigned against Trump, but now I wonder where she is? I watch Rupaul’s Drag Race religiously who speaks of women’s rights, queer liberation, Black Lives Matter, equality and justice. Now that Palestine has made world news, there is radio silence. Why does the world stay silent when it is clear that Palestinians are being oppressed? Being neutral means taking sides, being neutral means continuing to support the occupation and oppression of ALL Palestinians alike.
Human rights are valid for all regardless of your sexuality.