By Roni Shaked
Such a remarkable story could only happen in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A young gay Palestinian man, who is in grave, life-threatening danger and cannot return to his home with his Israeli partner, was saved by a stranger who came to his aid – a religious West Bank settler.
The Palestinian, T., and the Israeli, Doron, became a couple 10 years ago. Eight years ago, they drafted a marriage agreement between them, but this did not help on the bureaucratic side. T. is tormented: The State has yet to authorize family unification with Doron. As a result, he has yet to receive permanent authorization to live in Israel. He does not have health insurance, a bank account, or a drivers' license. Nor can he take out a mortgage.
"We live in a difficult reality," said Doron on Tuesday. "It's been many years that they are checking him out, but he hasn't done anything wrong. T. is a goody-two-shoes."
Recently, T.'s father, who lives in a West Bank village, fell ill, and his son wanted to go visit him. Because going to the village is life-threatening for him because residents there are not willing to accept his sexual orientation, a father-son meeting was held outside of the village.
About ten days ago, T. entered the West Bank via one of the checkpoints. His sick father, accompanied by his mother, waited for him a short distance from the checkpoint. It was an emotional meeting. The family members finally got to see one another and T. gave them a sum of money that he had been saving for them.
However, following the brief meeting, all started to go wrong. T. started making his way back to Israel, but was surprised to discover at the checkpoint that he was not allowed re-entry. Even though he is currently under consideration for family unification and despite the fact that a yearly temporary residence permit was authorized for him, it was decided not to allow him back into Israel for security considerations.
T. found himself in an impossible situation: he was not allowed to return to his home in Israel, but returning to his parents' home in the village would put his life in danger. Left with no other choice, he turned to the only person he knew in the area who could help him – a religious settler who has known him for some years. The man decided to give asylum to T. even though he knew it would not be looked upon favorably in the settlement.
So, this is how it came to be that T., a gay Palestinian, has been hiding out in the home of a religious Jewish family in a settlement.
Looking for a reason
"I can't go back to my home in Israel; I can't enter the village. The only option left for me is to hide out in a settlement, in a home that accepts me in a humane way," said T. on Tuesday.
T. has been trying to get back home for the past 10 days: "They took my residence permit. At first they told me, 'It got lost. Come back tomorrow and we'll find it.' Later they said to me: 'You need to submit a new application for a permit.' On Tuesday they said: 'Go to the Palestinian District Coordinating Office and ask them for a permit.'
"On Wednesday, they asked me to show up in Palestinian court and to bring a declaration that the permit was lost. I brought them all the documentation, but every day they say, 'Come back tomorrow.' I already don't know where to put myself. Every day I arrive at the checkpoint, wait many long hours, and when my turn finally comes up, they tell me, 'Go home.' I'm lucky that they have agreed to host me in the settlement."
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has already contacted the defense establishment and other government officials on the issue, but has failed to receive a clear explanation on the reason for T.'s detainment. Following questions submitted to the defense establishment, T. was summoned for a hearing to establish whether he can be allowed to return to Israel.
"They are intentionally endangering his life," said Doron on Tuesday. "A few years ago, he was arrested by the Palestinian Shin Bet, tortured for two weeks, and now my country is causing me terrible anxiety. He has been in Israel since the age of 13. He grew up within the Israeli reality. Anyone who brings a foreign woman is sorted out with family unification. But we – who live a normative life and don't impose any burden on the State, work, pay taxes – experience this suffering all the time. Ultimately, I ask for a little understanding, a little humanity, a little emotion."
T. also asked for help: "My situation is unusual. I can't return to my village. All I want is to return home."
The Defense Ministry reported that the reason for barring T.'s entry into Israel is security-based.
Meretz MK wants Israel to give gay Palestinians sanctuary
MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) called on the Palestinian Authority to halt the persecution of homosexuals within its territory, and said Israel should provide gay Palestinian refugees with sanctuary.
The Meretz MK wants Arab nations to sign an international declaration outlawing criminal prohibition of homosexuality. He added that Israel should also "improve its attitude towards religious gays".
Representatives from various nations signed a declaration against the outlawing of homosexuality at the end of the conference.
Horowitz also called on the international community to support Israel's efforts towards tolerance and openness. "Come and take part in our Gay Pride Parade, come and experience life in Israel," he told those present.
To Ynet he said, "I gave a speech at the opening of the conference and won raging applause. Many have invited me to visit their countries." Horowitz added that the representatives present at the conference included a few from Arab countries "where homosexuals are persecuted".
"It was nice to meet these people and to think that at least in this field, Israel is kind of a positive role model. I told of our struggle, what we have achieved, and what we would like to achieve in Israel," Horowitz said.
"I said Arab countries must stop persecuting gays and that Israel should support Palestinian homosexuals who flee because they fear for their lives. We need to give them sanctuary in certain cases."