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.
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.
“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.
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)
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’
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. www.workers.org/2007/world/feinberg-0419/ 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.