The Palestinian Authority police, who have control over portions of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, have banned all activities by LGBTQ rights group alQaws in the region.
The PA police announced the move over the weekend, with a spokesman saying the work of alQaws is “a blow to, and violation of, the ideals and values of Palestinian society,” The New York Times reports. That society, the Times reports, “is largely conservative and often repressive” toward LGBTQ people. But alQaws is vowing to fight on.
“AlQaws condemns the use of prosecution, intimidation and threats of arrest, be it by the police or members of society,” the organization said in a statement released on social media. “We believe that the police and Palestinian society at large should focus on combating the occupation and other forms of violence that tear apart the sensitive fabric of our society and values, instead of prosecuting activists who work tirelessly to end all forms of violence.”
The ban came after the group held a meeting in Nablus, a city on the northern part of the West Bank. AlQaws usually operates in areas not under Palestinian Authority control, but Nablus is. The organization plans to hold another event there toward the end of August, NBC News reports.
The crackdown brought criticism from both Palestinians and Israelis but figured in discussion of the ongoing tensions between the two. “Israel has long promoted its tolerance on sexual and gender issues … and it has cited a lack of gay rights in other parts of the Middle East to make unfavorable comparisons,” the Times notes. Some critics of Israel refer to this as “pinkwashing.”
“Israel has also been accused of portraying itself as a bastion of progressive values to detract attention from its 52-year occupation of the West Bank and the right-wing government’s policies toward Palestinians,” the paper adds. But alQaws has been accused of anti-Semitism for its support of an international boycott of Israel.
In a series of tweets, alQaws called on the public to reject the assumption that Palestinian society is inherently homophobic and the media to center Palestinian LGBTQ voices in their reporting. It also said the group’s struggle is as much against what it calls Israeli colonialism as “against homophobia and patriarchy in Palestine.”
The West Bank was once part of the territory of Palestine, set up by the British, but it has been occupied by Israel since 1967.