The founding law of “Palestine” states that all Palestinians are equal according to the law no matter their race, sex, color, religion, political ideology or disability. Despite this, people of different sexual orientations have come under serious human rights abuses under the Hamas regime.
The punishment for being gay is between 3 and 10 years imprisonment and often includes cases of torture and execution. In one case, Hamas was accused of torturing Mahmoud Ashtawi, a senior military member until he confessed to sleeping with members of the same sex. Hamas shot him three times in the chest and he died of his wounds.
Often, Hamas sets up “fake dates” between men to entrap them and monitors social media for what they call “unusual behaviour”. There is a great fear among the LGBT community not to be exposed by Hamas.
Monitoring Social Media
Hamas tracking and monitors LGBT activity in social networks.
An example of the harsh reality of life for the LGBT community in Gaza can be seen in the words of a young man named Jamil (pseudonym). Jamil said that Hamas members are trying to disguise themselves as they closely monitor the LGBT community in the Gaza Strip and that the social networks are under constant surveillance. However, Jamil noted that the community members living in the Gaza Strip have a number of apps that serve as tools to maintain secret contacts between them and which Hamas has not yet reached. Members of the community must take precautions against Hamas, and when they meet in some public place, they must make sure that they arrive separately and not together in order to not attract attention. According to Jamil, many LGBT individuals fled Gaza by paying thousands of dollars to cross the border into Egypt.
The Execution of Mahmoud Rushdi Ishtawi
A senior Hamas military operative was executed in 2016 on the pretext that he acted “sexually immoral”.
Mahmud Rushdi Ishtawi was a 34 year old father of three, and was jailed for over a year after criticizing Hamas. Hamas’ military wing announced that Ishtawi had been executed after he allegedly admitted that he had committed moral misconduct.
Ishtawi was a senior member of Hamas’ military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, and joined the ranks of the regiments in his high school in 1995. Ishtawi climbed the ranks of the military wing and established ties with then-Hamas prime minister and politburo chairman Ismail Haniyeh. After Operation Protective Edge, Ishtawi criticized Hamas commanders and disappeared a few days later.
According to his sister, journalist Buthaina Ishtawi, Yahya Sinwar (released in the “Shalit deal” and Hamas leader in Gaza today) entered Mahmoud’s house with a pistol aimed at the family. Ishtawi was allowed to meet his family several times throughout the incarceration period in unknown places to which they were taken blindfolded. During the visits, the family realized that Ashtawi was subjected to severe torture after he could not stand up and was even more difficult to shake hands with the visitors. According to relatives, the torture included hitting with a rubber tube, hanging from the ceiling, sleep deprivation and deterioration in the medical condition to the point of blood in the urine.
During his disappearance, his relatives turned to then-Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and urged him to bring the case of Ishtawi to court. According to them, Haniyeh said he would discuss this with members of the military wing, and in practice rejected them time after time. It should be noted that relatives demonstrated in front of Haniyeh’s house and were arrested. The family also turned to Khaled Mashaal, the head of Hamas’ political bureau at the time, to convey a message about a positive solution: Hamas refused the family’s request to conduct an operation on its own, and Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas figure in Gaza, refused to comment on the situation.
The following is a collection of testimonies and personal stories about the distress of the homosexuals in the Gaza Strip under Hamas. These testimonies were done in complete secrecy with the identity of the individuals hidden in order to protect them from Hamas.
The story of R.A., 51
The following are translated excerpts from the article linked here.
The author of the article says: “I was very hesitant about the next part because of its sensitivity, and I imagine that if I had written my real name, my fate would have been “behind the sun” (an expression used by Hamas to threaten anyone who dares to disobey them). At this point it is enough to tell what was said orally by meeting with R.A. who is the only person who has agreed to meet me face-to-face. R.A. lit his cigarette and a cup of coffee next to it, and said, “Ask what you want and I’ll answer you, but quickly, because our meeting is a mistake in view of the age differences between us.”
Tell me about when you first discovered the nature of your inclinations?
“When I was 12, early in adolescence, my friends talked to me about sex and girls, like most friends, and sometimes we just sat with some of the guys who brought pornographic magazines, but I was not attracted to girls and I did not enjoy looking at these magazines. I had a math teacher that I liked very much and I became attracted to him. I discovered that he was not like all my friends, but I did not know it was a need called “tendency,” and no one raised it or talked to us about such stories.”
Are you married?
“My family, like any family in Gaza, wanted to marry their son and to rejoice. I was against this, but when I reached the age of 30, I found no escape. So I got married and today I have four sons.” My wife got tired of my lack of feelings for her, and we got divorced after I was honest with her after 10 years of marriage. I was courageous and heroic when I told her. She was noble and did not reveal the truth and made do with divorce, but she took my children and I paid her alimony with all due respect, I visit the children, and there is no hatred between us.”
How can you manage your emotional and especially sexual life in a religiously extremist place like Gaza?
During my youth I did not know of the Internet and it was very difficult to meet people like me. I want to tell you exactly how we met and how homosexuals still meet in Gaza, but I hesitate slightly and fear, but I will tell you.
There is an elderly man who lives in the southern Gaza Strip in the city of Khan Yunis. The relationship with him is kept very secret. It works like a network of homosexuals, and he is the only link between them. If you are a homosexual and want to know people like you, he provides you with someone like that. There are many people on this network, and each has its place in society – doctors, engineers, professors. I know a dermatologist very well. The important thing is that he connects you to someone.
Does Hamas have any idea about this person or this network that you are talking about? If so, why don’t they reveal him publicly?
Of course they have an idea. Hamas is not a simple movement, they have more spies than what the Jews have. Hamas knows of every ant that walks on Gaza soil, but there are two reasons why Hamas does not intervene on the Internet: Many Hamas members, including senior officers and commanders, are on the Internet and have homosexual connections. There is no material conduct on the Internet. Which means there’s no money in it. Hamas does not care about religion, Islam or Allah, they only worship money! Any project in Gaza that has a single shekel or is a source of funds requires Hamas to have a part in it.”
How do you see the lives of homosexuals in Gaza?
“In general, in Arab countries, they gay community is divided into two: people who seek only sex, and people who seek love, for the first part, their lives are easy and they can at all times and with absolute secrecy do what they want! The latter are the ones who suffer, you know you can not walk down the street when you’re gay and kiss your lover, or even hold his hand.”
The author of the article adds: After the meeting, I shook hands with the interviewee and before I said good-bye he added, “Leave this, leave yourself far from these problems. These guys of Hamas [Hamasis] have no God. Just get out of the Gaza swamp, calm down and help whoever you want.” I said to myself, “I am only a supporter of this issue that I remained in a vicious circle of danger, what would happen if I were one of those persecuted unfortunate people.”