Global Queer Palestinian/Jewish Solidarity & Love Resides at the SMA

ASWAT Palestinian Gay Women invited anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist Leslie Feinberg to speak at their historic Queer conference in occupied Palestine in 2007. Read the speech zie wrote alongside archival images and holdings curated by the Sexual Minorities Archives in this article.

Image depicts Leslie Feinberg in front of hir journalism photograph of a Palestinian protest.

Introduction from the SMA:

On March 28, 2007, courageous Queer leaders of Aswat Palestinian Gay Women forged through pervasive bigotry to hold a historic conference in Haifa, Palestine. The conference was titled, “Home and Exile in the Queer Experience,” and featured Queer Arabic films and an evening celebratory feast. They overcame protestors at the conference doors with clarity and strength. Much of the surrounding community welcomed the conference goers with open arms and plates full of food.

Image ID: Leslie’s photo of a diverse group of protesters holding Free Palestine, Stop Terrorism Stop Israel, and International Action Center signs at the protest for Gaza in Buffalo New York (Northeast U.S.) on 12/27/09. It is just about evening and people have rosy cheeks, keffiyehs, Palestinian colors, smiles, and chants. The two people at the front and center have long hair, beautiful eye make up, keffiyehs, warm clothes, a Free Palestine sign, hoop earrings, and radiant smiles. Leslie’s caption reads, “free_free Palestine!

“Aswat” is Arabic for “voices”-the voices of lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersexual Palestinians. Conference honoree Rauda Morcos, Aswat’s general coordinator, told the story of how Aswat “grew out of the seed of an email list.” It provided a space for Palestinian gay women were able to meet and get to know each other online. They went on to hold meetings at Rauda’s home.

At the conference, they celebrated 5 years of Aswat’s existence and the publication of their revolutionary Arabic Queer love anthology. The primarily invite-only conference saw around 350 people attend, and was simultaneously translated into Arabic, Hebrew, and English. People of all sexualities and genders attended from Palestinian cities, towns and villages including Gaza, Ramallah, and West Bank towns under Israeli occupation, Lebanon, Ashkenazi Israeli Jewish activists, and more.

Astraea Lesbian Foundation created a letter of solidarity for Aswat with signatures from 100 international organizations and hundreds of individual people. Some signers that may be of interest to SMA readers include Audre Lorde Project/ALP, FIERCE!, and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. ASWAT invited a handful of international activists to attend and speak at the conference. Leslie Feinberg was one of those people.

Image ID: There is a group of Queer people protesting with signs in Arabic and progress pride, trans pride, and Palestinian flags. Behind them, the setting sun shares their cries for justics and illuminates lush trees and a stone building. The image was posted to Aswat’s insta with the Arabic words for “The beautiful Haifa.” SMA image caption: “Queer Palestinians&comrades protest violence against Transgender women in Haifa, in response to the 7/26/19 stabbing of a queer teenager by their brother outside the Beit Dror LGBTQ+ Youth Hostel in Tel Aviv. 8/1/19 by @aswatfreedoms.” To the right are 2 logos. The first one is ASWAT Palestinian Feminist Center for Sexual and Gender Freedoms’ current 2023 logo, which is a green word collage in Arabic and English for “My Right To Live To Choose To Be.” Underneath is ASWAT’s 2007 logo which is a black and white water color painting of the Arabic word for “voices” above the Arabic and English words for “ASWAT – Palestinian Gay Women” in front of a circle.

Being invited to Palestine was one of the greatest honors of Leslie Feinberg’s life, and we here at the Sexual Minorities Archives will not let that be erased. This is what we mean when we say, “Never Again the Silence.

Sexual Minorities Archives Board Member Victoria Palmatier (she/they)
Image ID: Leslie at approximately 64 years old wearing a green shirt with Arabic for “Free Palestine” on it. Zie is raising hir fist in solidarity. Hir knuckles are whitened from the force of hir grasp. Zie has a tight-lipped smile, and hir determined blue eyes convey hir lifelong belief that Palestine will be free. Caption: “Leslie’s work and personal library are immortalized at the Sexual Minorities Archives in Holyoke MA Northeast US. Photo by Minnie Bruce Pratt 2013 Syracuse, N.Y., Northeast US.”

Leslie’s article about the conference experience can be found here.

The rest of this post is a transcription of Leslie’s speech at the conference which was originally printed by Worker’s World in April 2007 and can be found here. Bracketed words and phrases were delivered in Arabic.

Leslie Feinberg to Aswat: ‘I am at your side’

[in Arabic: I know where I stand: in historic Palestine. So my first words must be in Arabic. Thank you for inviting me here. It is the largest honor in my life. I salute Aswat.

– Leslie Feinberg (1949-2014) in Haifa, Palestine at ASWAT’s historic conference on March 28, 2007
Image ID: “A colorful sea of flags, held aloft by contingents of demonstrators, gave visual representation to the united front that today’s demonstration represented. The large contingent of the Communist Party of Israel—which is more than 90 percent Palestinian—held many red flags” Leslie Feinberg for Workers World in Sakhnin, Occupied Palestine 3/30/07. Above the crowd, the SMA printed an excerpt from Leslie’s article, “Today, Palestinians of all ages marched through the streets of Sakhnin singing in Arabic: My land, I love you, you are my life.” Leslie’s article about the historic Land Day protest in Palestine can be found here.
Imade ID: Image depicts the sign at the St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Church in Syracuse N.Y. on February 7, 2009. The sandwich board letters read, “Fundraiser for Gaza Pasta Lunch Sun Mar 1 at Noon Inquiries Call 450-9000. It is winter, and there is a street sign for Deer Crossing on the left. It was taken by Leslie Feinberg and is titled fundraiser for gaza

My first words in English must be why I am here, within the 1948 borders of the Israeli settler state. Why am I here when the colonial occupier set up an apartheid state in the name of Jewish people and co-opts the symbol of Judaism, stitching it into every uniform, flying it from every tank turret? Why am I here when I remember, every day of my adult life, what happened to the people of Deir Yassin?

Why am I here, when the right of return belongs to those who, for thousands of years, planted the olive trees? Why am I here since I am one of many Jewish activists in the U.S. who struggle to dismantle the Israeli settler state?

Image ID: Leslie’s photo of a section of the apartheid border wall in occupied Palestine on 3/29/07 during Leslie’s trip to Haifa at Aswat’s invitation. The top of the gray, concrete wall extends past the top of the photograph. There are English and Arabic words spray painted words on it. English words: “Arizona AZ USA for Palestine” and “PAID BY USA.”

And most precisely, why am I here when I am one of many activists around the world who are working to build and strengthen the divestment campaign and economic and cultural boycott of Israel—as well as Caterpillar, Starbucks and Estee Lauder—while we demand at the same time that the U.S.-led economic embargo of the Palestinian Authority end immediately?

I say to you here, to all Palestinian and Arab people of the Middle East and the forced Diaspora, and to oppressed peoples everywhere, that I am here for only one reason: I am here because Palestinian Aswat asked me to come.

I have long stated publicly that I would only travel here if the Israeli state had already been dismantled, or if I were invited by Palestinians to travel here to support your struggle. What an honor to be able to be side-by-side with you today at your invitation. I thank Aswat for giving me this great honor to be here with you, to celebrate this publication in Arabic about [in Arabic: lesbians and male homosexuals].

Sometimes people say something is an honor, but they don’t mean it. I really do mean it. History has woven our destinies. I was born into a Jewish family of factory workers one year after al-Nakba. I am with Palestinian liberation with every breath in my body; every muscle and every sinew.

History will recall what an important development took place here as you have raised your [in Arabic: voices]. From the Crusades to the 1948 Zionist occupation of Palestine, colonialism and imperialism have brutally imposed economic, military and cultural domination.

Image ID: Image is a digital collage of photos and text that depicts the book 19 Varieties of Gazelle by Palestinian-American poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, Minnie Bruce Pratt’s inscription inside the front cover, a poem, and a message from the Sexual Minorities Archives. The short poem reads:
Some people place their whole bodies
inside a dream
A woman steps out of a dream
with fresh almonds wrapped in a towel

holding them out
to any open mouth.

for Palestine
The book was a gift to Leslie from hir lover, the famous poet Minnie Bruce Pratt. Minnie Bruce inscribed the book, “For my Leslie in honor of your years of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle From your loving Minnie Bruce May Day 02.” Minnie Bruce’s handwriting is a combination of script and block letters. The letters are like Minnie Bruce – distinct, graceful, and full of loops and love.

The book in the photograph is an archival holding at the SMA. The message from the SMA in the image reads: “Leslie Feinberg’s personal library is immortalized at the Sexual Minorities Archives in Holyoke MA (Northeast U.S.), hir collection housed in the Sylvia Rivera Reading Room. Visitors of the archives can read through Leslie’s library, full of personal annotations, photographs, and inscriptions such as this one from hir lover, Minnie Bruce.”
Image ID: Leslie’s photo of 3 protest signs on sticks leaning against a tree on 12/29/09 in Buffalo, N.Y. (northeast U.S.). One reads, “Support Gaza Resistance Buffalo/WNY International Action Ctr.” Another: “End the Israeli Occupation of Palestine I.A.C. (International Action Center). Another: “Stop All U.S. Aid for Israeli War Crimes IAC Buffalo 604-9515.” Leslie’s caption: “signs against trees @ sunset after strong protest by diverse groups and individuals

The British Mandate brought anti-sodomy laws to Palestine, a legacy the Israeli occupation kept. The French Mandate brought anti-sodomy laws to Lebanon—that’s what Helem is fighting.

Now, today, here, with its first publication, this important anthology, Aswat is opening up a dialogue [in Arabic] with your own people in your own language about your own culture within your own history—a part of the struggle of the Palestinian people towards the liberation they so richly deserve. You are developing a language of persuasion.

The discussion may not be an easy one—profound and lasting transformation rarely is—but those of us who defend your right to self-determination, your sovereignty, will defend the right of the Palestinian people to carry out their internal dialogue without Israeli or U.S. interference or political manipulation.

Today there are some who will try to separate Aswat from the Palestinian struggle and only relate to you on the basis of a universal sexual identity. But those who support your self-determination will not forget that you are linguistically translating your culture, your lives and your self-identities and your struggle to make it easier for those of use who are not fluent in Arabic to understand. But that does not mean that identities like lesbian, gay, bi, transgender, transsexual, intersexual have one universal meaning in all places, for all peoples, for all cultures, or in all historical periods.

Colonialism and imperialism have always tried to foment conflicts in order to divide and conquer. In the case of Palestinians, as [in Arabic: the Lebanese LGBT group] Helem concluded, “[The rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders should not be placed in competition with the long struggle of the Palestinian people, including Palestinian LGBT people, for self-determination, for the right to return to their homes, and the struggle against apartheid and the occupation of their lands.”

Today we see how the imperialists—the U.S. to Israelis—use the experiences of women, of gays, of transgenders as pretexts for imperialist war. The white supremacist ideology replaces the colonial claim of “bringing civilization,” into imperialist claims that they are “bringing democracy.” But Washington and Tel Aviv have brought ruthless reactionary occupations to the Middle East.

Today the U.S. has made anti-gay, anti-trans, anti-woman rape and humiliation part of its science of torture and repression from the U.S. torture camp in imperialist-occupied Guantánamo, Cuba, to Abu Ghraib.

Image ID: The image depicts a diverse groups of protesters marching for workers rights, holding protest signs and flying a large Palestinian flag above the crowd. People are light Spring clothes and march past a brick building. Leslie’s caption from April 30, 2010 reads, “Workers and oppressed of the world unite!’ In the era when competitive capitalism had not yet expanded beyond national boundaries, Marx–as an internationalist–raised the banner: “Workers of the world unite you have nothing to lose but your chains!”

So when people in Cuba and around the world hear that Aswat was translating into Arabic the call for Rainbow Solidarity with the Cuban Five—five political prisoners held in the U.S. for the so-called crime of trying to halt right-wing commando terrorist attacks on Cuba from U.S. soil—they understand that Aswat is speaking the language of solidarity.

Image ID: Youth protester (7-12 year old range) holding a protest sign that reads, “Israel is an Apartheid State!” The sign is so large it almost covers the entire child. They are peeking over the top half of the poster to look at the camera. They are in warm winter clothes, Palestinian colors, and are adorable. Behind is a large diverse youth-filled crowd of protesters wearing winter clothes, keffiyehs, Palestinian colors, and signs in support of Palestine. It is daylight. It is from the 12/27/08 protest for Gaza in Buffalo, N.Y. (northeast U.S.)

Helem also inspired millions with its eloquent support for the global movement to boycott Jerusalem Pride 2006 “as part of the international boycott of, and divestment from Israel.” And people in Lebanon and around the world saw Helem provide shelter, food and other supplies to many refugees who escaped the war zone in the south and the southern suburbs of Beirut. I send my solidarity to Helem, and to all the Lebanese people. I salute the victory of your people over the Israeli military, armed and backed by the Pentagon.

I raise my voice here in solidarity with the Iraqi and Iranian people of all sexualities and genders who are fiercely resisting imperialism. We are working hard to defend you.

The anti-war movement worldwide, particularly in the imperialist countries, needs to hear your Aswat. So my work here is to help to amplify the Palestinian Aswat, the Arab Aswat. I will listen carefully, closely and respectfully to your Aswat.

My actions also demonstrate my support for the growing world economic boycott of Israel. I did not buy a plane ticket to travel here. Minnie Bruce Pratt—a poet warrior, comrade, and my partner in life and love—sends her solidarity to Aswat by contributing 140,000 of her frequent flyer miles for my airline ticket. Within the Israeli economy I will not buy a single souvenir, not a postcard. I will only spend money for food.

In support of the cultural boycott of Israel, I turned down a request to speak at Tel Aviv University. I will not speak a word of Hebrew or Yiddish while I am here. I will not sign the Hebrew language translation of Stone Butch Blues. I already send every penny of income I receive from the Hebrew edition to Aswat.

I come here knowing that Tel Aviv and Washington may try to detain me because my life does not fit into the either/or boxes of the U.S. passport. But I come here to stand with Aswat.

Image ID: The image features a quote from Leslie’s late and great partner, the famous poet Minnie-Bruce Pratt. Pratt wrote, “in Worker’s World on March 31, 2015, “Leslie Feinberg always used insights into her own oppressions to forge connections with all oppressions, including international solidarity with countries under assault by neocolonialism and imperialism. Her very first Workers World demonstration was in support of Palestine in 1973.” The image of Leslie on the left depicts them speaking at a militant action by FIERCE – a LGBTQ2+ youth of color-led organization–in New York City, 2002 taken by Jesse Ehrensaft-Hawley.” The photo is black and white and depicts Leslie speaking into a microphone in one hand and holding rolled up papers like a baton in another. Zie is wearing a plain black t-shirt and watch. Behind them are trees and people listening. The image on the right of the text depicts Leslie Feinberg and Minni-Bruce Pratt in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1993. Minnie Bruce is laying on her back with her left arm tucked under her head and her right arm across her body. She has a short voluminous bob hair cut and is looking at the camera with a small smile, showing her top teeth. She is wearing a button down shirt with a camisole underneath and her bottoms have suns printed on them. Leslie is lying on hir stomach with her strong right arm holding Minnie Bruce. Leslie is looking right at the camera with a straight face and has a short spiky hair cut. They are laying on a quilted bed in what appears to be a large room. The love between them emanates out of the computer screen.

It may seem that the colonial occupation of Palestine could last forever, but it will not. With the Intifada and world support it will end, as surely as apartheid in South Africa was ended by the long struggle of the Black people of South Africa—who took up arms for liberation—and those of us who fought alongside in solidarity, including for divestment. I am with you in your struggle.

I respect and defend your right to self-determination. I will fight alongside you for every right—for full civil rights within the 1948 borders, for transportation between the villages of the triangle, for an immediate end to the economic embargo against the Palestinian people as collective punishment for electing their own government representative, for an end to the siege of the West Bank and Gaza at your side.

Image ID: The image features a picture of Leslie Feinberg with information about the picture around it. Leslie is approximately 64 years old, wearing a green t-shirt with the Arabic motto to support “Free Palestine!” printed in black on it. Zie is raising hir left fist in a show of solidarity, and has a small “Red Star for Palestine” on his wrist. Hir face has a small radically militant and kind close mouthed smile on it. Hir eyes convey belief that Palestine will be free. Zie is framed by black illustrations of olive branches. The words around hir image state: “And I will be with you on the day that we tear down the colonial garrison state of Israel and Palestine is free from this racist, theocratic, apartheid imperialist occupation—the day when all those who planted the olive trees will taste the fruit of freedom. From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free! Long live Palestinian Aswat! – Leslie Feinberg 1949-2014” and “Photo Credit: “Leslie Feinberg, Red Star for Palestine, Syracuse, N.Y., June 20, 2013.” By Minnie Bruce Pratt.” and “In 2007, the group ASWAT Palestinian Gay Women held a historic conference in Haifa titled, “Home and Exile in the Queer Experience.” Aswat is Arabic for “voices”-voices of lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer Palestinians. They invited Leslie Feinberg, a lesbian transgender Jewish communist from the northeast US, to speak. Zie considered it to be one of the greatest honors of hir life. Leslie’s work and personal library are immortalized today at the Sexual Minorities Archives (SMA) in Holyoke MA Northeast USA ASWAT Palestinian Gay Women is known today as Aswat Palestinian Feminist Center for Gender and Sexual Freedoms @aswatfreedoms Leslie’s journalism about this time in Palestine is published in Worker’s World.

And I will be with you on the day that we tear down the colonial garrison state of Israel and Palestine is free from this racist, theocratic, apartheid imperialist occupation—the day when all those who planted the olive trees will taste the fruit of freedom. From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free! Long live Palestinian Aswat!

Compiled by the Sexual Minorities Archives (SMA)

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Source: Feinberg, Leslie. Leslie Feinberg to Aswat: ‘I am at your side’ Workers World. 2007 April 12. Articles copyright 1995-2012 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved. Support Worker’s World here.