A conference scheduled for the end of March by a group of Palestinian Lesbians has drawn fire from a number of Islamic groups for the conference’s supposed impropriety.
At the top of the list of those decrying the planned gathering is Israel’s Islamic Movement, who says that the conference, set to held in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, should be stopped since "We must not let this fatal cancer spread in our community," according to Haaretz.
The Lesbian group planning the event, calling itself “Asawat”, is comprised of nearly one hundred members from Israel and Palestine. The "Home and Exile" conference, scheduled for March 28, is meant to spark discussion of homosexuality among Israel's 1 million Arab citizens, explained Roula Deeb, a prominent Arab feminist, according to the AP. The conference also aims to mark the five-year anniversary of the group’s establishment.
The group has organized support groups for lesbians in Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Asawat has been credited with its Human Rights achievements when Rawda Morcos received the 2006 Felipa de Souza award. Morcos helped found Asawat, and created a website that links Palestinian lesbians who live in Israel and Palestine.
Head of the Islamic Movement, MKs Ibrahim Sarsur and Abas Zakoor published a statement which called on "all respectable people from all communities and streams to stand up against preaching sexual deviance among our women and girls." Homosexuality is strictly forbidden by Islam.
"Lesbians...need treatment—they don't need to spread their strange ideas in the Arab community," said Mohammed Zbidat, a spokesman for the Islamic Movement.
Ironically, the Islamic Movement has teamed up with its rivals in Israel’s Orthodox communities for similar reasons in the past. A recent Gay Pride parade, held in Jerusalem, drew the ire of both religious Jewish and Muslim communities, when the Islamic Movement’s southern branch aligned itself with the Jewish Orthodox community in protest of the planned event.
Other Muslim and Arab groups in Israel, however, including the Arabic-language newspaper Al Ittihad, and Hadash, have criticized the Islamic Movement’s stand.
Israel is generally tolerant of homosexuality, however Israel's Arabs, who make up one-fifth of the population, live mostly in communities where homosexuality is still considered unacceptable.
In neighboring Lebanon, gay people have held news conferences and run a magazine called Barra, meaning "out," the only publication of its kind. But nearly everywhere in the Arab world, individuals face persecution if they come out openly.
Asawat has yet to respond to the outcry, and said that it would respond when it saw fit.
© 2007 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )