LGBT rights in the State of Palestine

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LGBT rights in State of Palestine
State of Palestine (orthographic projection).svg
StatusMixed legality:
  • West Bank – Legal since 1951, equal age of consent
  • Gaza Strip – Illegal for males
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsNo recognition of same-sex couples

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, & transgender (LGBT) people in Palestine face legal challenges and discrimination not experienced by non-LGBT residents. According to Amnesty International's 2020 report on Palestine, "Section 152 of the Penal Code in Gaza criminalizes [male] consensual same-sex sexual activity and makes it punishable by up to 10 years' imprisonment."[1] In 2019, the Palestinian Authority (i.e., West Bank) police banned the activities of queer and feminist rights organization Al Qaws and requested for residents to report 'suspicious' activities.[2][3]

Criminal law and civil rights

In the State of Palestine, there is no specific, stand-alone civil rights legislation that protects LGBT people from discrimination or harassment. While hundreds of queer Palestinians are reported to have fled to Israel because of the hostility they face in Palestine,[4] they have also been subject to house arrest or deportation by Israeli authorities on account of the inapplicability of the law of asylum to areas or nations in which Israel is in conflict.[5] A significant portion of Palestinian-Arab lawmakers and community leaders in Israel hold deeply anti-LGBT views, as well.[6]

According to a 2010 compendium of laws against homosexuality produced by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual and Intersex Association (ILGA), the decriminalization of homosexuality in Palestine is patchwork.[7] On the one hand, same-sex acts were decriminalized in the Jordanian-controlled West Bank in 1951 and remain so to this day. On the other hand, in the Gaza Strip, the British Mandate Criminal Code Ordinance, No. 74 of 1936 remains in force and continues to outlaw same-sex acts between men. Because queer women are not subjects of the code, their relations are thus, technically, not unlawful.[8] Palestine has no civil rights laws that protect LGBT people from discrimination nor harassment.[9]

The Palestinian Authority has not legislated either for or against homosexuality. "On the legal level, the President of the Palestinian Authority issued his first decision on 20 May 1994 which provided that legislation and laws that were effective before 5 June 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would remain effective" – and, in line with almost all other Palestinian laws, the confused legal legacy of foreign occupation – Ottoman, British, Jordanian, Egyptian and Israeli – continues to determine the erratic application or non-application of the criminal law to same-sex activity and gender variance in each of the territories.[10][11]

In 2013, a gay Palestinian man told reporters that "local Palestinian Authority police are aware and keep files on him and other homosexuals, blackmailing them into working as spies and informants." He reported stories "of guys being called at random and told to come into [Palestinian Authority] police stations, with threats their families would be told about their sexuality if they didn't show up."[12]

The same report noted that Israeli intelligence offered another gay Palestinian man free entry into Israel on an ongoing basis to visit his Israeli boyfriend if he provided "the names of the organisers, the religious people in the villages and names of children throwing stones at Israeli military jeeps." The report noted that the Mossad had been tracking his location through his cell phone. The man did not cooperate despite fear that the Israelis would reveal his sexuality to his family and community, who would reject him. It is not reported if anything subsequently was disclosed.[12][13]

In February 2016, the armed wing of Palestinian militant group Hamas (classified as a terrorist organization by the United Kingdom, the EU, Canada, Israel, Japan and USA)[14][15] which rules Gaza executed Mahmoud Ishtiwi - one of the group's leading commanders - under allegations of gay sex and theft.[16][17] Ishtiwi left two wives and three children.

In August 2019, the Palestinian Authority announced that LGBT groups were forbidden to meet in the West Bank on the grounds that they are "harmful to the higher values and ideals of Palestinian society". This was in response to a planned conference in Nablus by Al-Qaws, a Palestinian LGBT group.[18]

Marriage and family

Gay Palestinians frequently seek refuge in Israel fearing for their lives, especially fearing death from members of their own families.[19] "According to lawyer Shaul Gannon, from the Israeli LGBT organization The Aguda – Israel's LGBT Task Force, around 2,000 Palestinian homosexuals live in Tel Aviv at any one time."[12]

Media and cultural references

Several Israeli films and or television programs have dealt with the issue of LGBT Palestinians, often having relationships with LGBT Israelis. However, none of these films have been directed by LGBT Palestinians.

  • Hide and Seek (1980) - An Israeli drama film to address themes of homosexuality between an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Arab, the film is set in Mandatory Palestine in 1946.
  • Drifting (1983) – An Israeli film to deal with LGBT themes features two Palestinian men, among the many people that the hero meets and interacts with while looking for love.[20]
  • The Bubble (Ha-Buah) (2007) – Two gay men, an Israeli and a Palestinian, face prejudice and other challenges while they date each other in Tel Aviv.[21]
  • Zero Degrees of Separation – Explores the challenges facing same-sex couples in Israel when one of the partners is Palestinian or Arab.[19]
  • Out in the Dark (2012) – A romance between two gay men, an Israeli and a Palestinian. They put as much effort as they can to stay together, regardless of the law.[22]
  • The Invisible Men (2012) – From Israeli filmmaker Yariv Mozer, an informative documentary on the struggles of what it means to be gay in Palestine. It follows the lives of men who escaped because of their sexuality. Now hiding in Tel Aviv, they must face another set of challenges.[23]


A Palestinian National AIDS/HIV Health program was established in 1998. Dr Ezzat Gouda is the current doctor focusing on sexually transmitted diseases for the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Reports claim that very few people have become infected since 1987, and those people who are infected face prejudice and shortages of medicine.[24]

In 2003, a report from the Palestinian Health Minister[25] made some references to the infections, under "communicable diseases".[26]


Logo of Al Qaws, the leading organization for Palestinian LGBTQ rights. The group was shortly banned in 2019, with the ban being reversed after backlash.

The main argument against LGBTQ rights in Palestine is that homosexual behavior goes against religious and traditional values. The predominant religion, Islam, disapproves strongly of homosexuality as it is viewed as unnatural. This attitude weighs heavy on the government and its endeavors, causing an immense breach of state and religion. Constant obstruction of LGBTQ efforts are all too common. Despite this, while organizations having to undergo major setbacks, many persevere fighting for equal rights.

In the early 2000s, two established groups formed to provide support to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) Palestinian people living within the borders of Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Al Qaws ("Rainbow" in Arabic), the first official Palestinian LGBTQ organization, was founded in 2001 as a community project of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance[27] to specifically address the needs of LGBTQ Palestinian people living in Jerusalem. Al-Qaws has expanded since its founding and now hosts social activities in Jerusalem, Haifa, Jaffa and the West Bank as an arena of support for members of the LGBTQ Palestinian community. Al Qaws also hosts a telephone support line.[28]

In 2002, a second group formed to specifically address the needs of Palestinian lesbian women; Aswat ("Voices" in Arabic) was founded as a project of the Palestinian Feminist NGO Kayan, at the Haifa Feminist Center . Aswat started as an anonymous email-list serving to provide support to Palestinian gay women, and has developed into an established working group that hosts monthly meetings for its approximately 60 members, and organizes lectures, events, and educational opportunities. Aswat translates and publishes original texts related to sexuality and gender identity previously unavailable in the Arabic language, and hosts the largest collection of Arabic-language texts related to homosexuality on its website.[29] Aswat works to raise community awareness on the identities of "Palestinian," "Gay" and "Female." Aswat's efforts face challenges, co-founder Rauda Morcos, was sent a fatwa.[30] This being one of the many examples of harassment organizations like ASWAT undergo.

In 2015 a Palestinian artist named Khaled Jarrar painted a rainbow flag on a section of a West Bank wall. A group of Palestinians painted over it. Jarrar said that he painted the rainbow flag to remind people that even though same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States, Palestinians still live in occupation. Jarrar criticized the paint-over, stating that it "reflects the absence of tolerance, and freedoms in the Palestinian society."[31]

Palestinian state police enforce moral codes of conduct. The level of police brutality against LGBTQ people is immense. Much of that entails different levels of harassment. Ranging from the obstruction of events to violence against its members. Examples include the shut down of organizational events.[32] In August 2019, the Palestinian Authority banned LGBTQ community organizations from operating in the West Bank in response to a planned Al Qaws event.[33] The ban was withdrawn by the end of the month following backlash.[34][35]

The LGBTQ rights movement can be a cause of dissension, as it raises questions of what freedom really means for the Palestinian people. It closely ties on the ongoing matters of the occupation of Palestine. Many activists, like Maisan Hamdan, believe that once liberation is achieved for the land, this won’t necessarily follow with freedom for the LGBTQ of Palestine.[30]

Summary table

Same-sex sexual activity legal West Bank:
Yes Legal since 1951 for males; always been legal for females
No Male illegal (Penalty: Up to 10 years imprisonment)
Yes Legal for females
Equal age of consent West Bank: Yes
Gaza: No For males / Yes For females
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only No
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Same-sex marriages No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly in the military No
Right to change legal gender No
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSM allowed to donate blood No

See also


  1. ^ "Everything you need to know about human rights in Palestine". Retrieved 21 May 2021.
  2. ^ Kershner, Isabel; Najib, Mohammed (19 August 2019). "Palestinian Authority Bans Activities by Gay Rights Group". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 May 2021.
  3. ^ "Palestine". Human Dignity Trust. Retrieved 21 May 2021.
  4. ^ "In Limbo – Palestinian gays". 8 August 2004.
  5. ^ "Palestinian gays flee to Israel". 22 October 2003 – via
  6. ^ Estrin, Daniel. "Israel's Prime Minister May Benefit From A Rift Over LGBTQ Rights". Retrieved 21 May 2021.
  7. ^ "Compendium of International, Regional and National Legal Instruments on Forced Displacement" (PDF). Retrieved 31 March 2021.
  8. ^ Ottosson, Daniel. "State-Sponsored Homophobia: A World Survey of Laws Prohibiting Same-Sex Activity Between Consenting Adults" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 November 2010.
  9. ^ "Palestine - GlobalGayz". Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  10. ^ "Legal Status in the Palestinian territories". Archived from the original on 3 November 2007.
  11. ^ "Palestine – Laws".
  12. ^ a b c O'Connor, Nigel (19 February 2013). "Gay Palestinians Are Being Blackmailed Into Working As Informants | VICE | United Kingdom". VICE. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
  13. ^ "Revealed: Israel is a gay Mecca - New York Times promotes a pink-washed democracy - An-Nahar". 8 January 2015. Archived from the original on 31 January 2016. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
  14. ^ "EU terrorist list". Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  15. ^ "Foreign Terrorist Organizations". United States Department of State. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  16. ^ Hadid, Diaa; Waheidi, Majd Al (1 March 2016). "Hamas Commander, Accused of Theft and Gay Sex, Is Killed by His Own". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 May 2021.
  17. ^ Moore, Jack (2 March 2016). "Hamas executed a prominent commander after accusations of gay sex". Newsweek. Retrieved 6 April 2016.
  18. ^ Weich, Ben (19 August 2019). "Palestinian Authority bans LGBTQ groups from the West Bank". Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 25 August 2019.
  19. ^ a b "Palestine". GlobalGayz. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
  20. ^ " | Planet Out Official Site | It's All on Planet Out". Archived from the original on 29 March 2008.
  21. ^ The Bubble (2007), retrieved 3 December 2020
  22. ^ Out in the Dark (2013), retrieved 3 December 2020
  23. ^ Mozer, Yariv (2 May 2013), The Invisible Men (Documentary, Drama), retrieved 23 December 2020
  24. ^ "No friends, few drugs and little expertise for AIDS patients". IRIN. 6 December 2006. Retrieved 20 January 2011.
  25. ^ [1] Archived 16 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ "Palestinian Authority (West Bank and Gaza Strip)". 19 September 2005. Archived from the original on 24 May 2019. Retrieved 20 January 2011.
  27. ^ Haneen Maikey. "Rainbow over Palestine | Opinion". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
  28. ^ "Who are we?". Archived from the original on 13 May 2013. Retrieved 1 October 2013.
  29. ^ "Information & Publication". Aswat Group. Archived from the original on 26 January 2017. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
  30. ^ a b "'A queer cry for freedom': Meet the LGBTQ Palestinians demanding liberation". +972 Magazine. 2 August 2020. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
  31. ^ Daraghmeh, Mohammed and Ian Deitch. "Rainbow flag on West Bank barrier touches nerve for Palestinians" (Archive). Haaretz. 30 June 2015. Retrieved on 3 July 2015.
  32. ^ "Palestinian police vow crackdown on LGBTQ events". NBC News. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
  33. ^ "Palestinian Authority bans LGBTQ activities in West Bank". The Jerusalem Post. 19 August 2019. Retrieved 19 August 2019.
  34. ^ Ashly, Jaclynn (27 August 2019). "PA rescinds ban on LGBTQ group after protests". The Electronic Intifada. Retrieved 31 August 2019.
  35. ^ AFP (21 August 2019). "Rights groups slam Palestinian police for banning LGBTQ activity". Times of Israel. Retrieved 13 September 2019. Police subsequently rescinded their original statement, according to the [Palestinian Human Rights Organisations] Council.

External links