Leslie Feinberg to Aswat: 'I am at your side'
Published Apr 12, 2007 9:18 PM
Leslie Feinberg, a lesbian transgender and Jewish communist, delivered
the following solidarity statement to the first public conference of
Aswat—Palestinian Gay Women—in Haifa on March 28. Bracketed words,
phrases and sentences were delivered in Arabic.
I know where I stand: in historic Palestine. So my first words must be in
Arabic. Thank you for inviting me here. It is the largest honor in my life. I
My first words in English must be why I am here, within the 1948 borders of the
Israeli settler state. Why am I here when the colonial occupier set up an
apartheid state in the name of Jewish people and co-opts the symbol of Judaism,
stitching it into every uniform, flying it from every tank turret?
Why am I here when I remember, every day of my adult life, what happened to the
people of Deir Yassin?
Why am I here, when the right of return belongs to those who, for thousands of
years, planted the olive trees? Why am I here since I am one of many Jewish
activists in the U.S. who struggle to dismantle the Israeli settler state?
And most precisely, why am I here when I am one of many activists around the
world who are working to build and strengthen the divestment campaign and
economic and cultural boycott of Israel—as well as Caterpillar, Starbucks
and Estee Lauder—while we demand at the same time that the U.S.-led
economic embargo of the Palestinian Authority end immediately?
I say to you here, to all Palestinian and Arab people of the Middle East and
the forced Diaspora, and to oppressed peoples everywhere, that I am here for
only one reason: I am here because Palestinian Aswat asked me to come.
I have long stated publicly that I would only travel here if the Israeli state
had already been dismantled, or if I were invited by Palestinians to travel
here to support your struggle. What an honor to be able to be side-by-side with
you today at your invitation. I thank Aswat for giving me this great honor to
be here with you, to celebrate this publication in Arabic about [lesbians and
Sometimes people say something is an honor, but they don’t mean it. I
really do mean it. History has woven our destinies. I was born into a Jewish
family of factory workers one year after al-Nakba. I am with Palestinian
liberation with every breath in my body; every muscle and every sinew.
History will recall what an important development took place here as you have
raised your [voices in Arabic]. From the Crusades to the 1948 Zionist
occupation of Palestine, colonialism and imperialism have brutally imposed
economic, military and cultural domination.
The British Mandate brought anti-sodomy laws to Palestine, a legacy the Israeli
occupation kept. The French Mandate brought anti-sodomy laws to
Lebanon—that’s what Helem is fighting.
Now, today, here, with its first publication, this important anthology, Aswat
is opening up a dialogue [in Arabic] with your own people in your own language
about your own culture within your own history—a part of the struggle of
the Palestinian people towards the liberation they so richly deserve. You are
developing a language of persuasion.
The discussion may not be an easy one—profound and lasting transformation
rarely is—but those of us who defend your right to self-determination,
your sovereignty, will defend the right of the Palestinian people to carry out
their internal dialogue without Israeli or U.S. interference or political
Today there are some who will try to separate Aswat from the Palestinian
struggle and only relate to you on the basis of a universal sexual identity.
But those who support your self-determination will not forget that you are
linguistically translating your culture, your lives and your self-identities
and your struggle to make it easier for those of use who are not fluent in
Arabic to understand. But that does not mean that identities like lesbian, gay,
bi, transgender, transsexual, intersexual have one universal meaning in all
places, for all peoples, for all cultures, or in all historical periods.
Colonialism and imperialism have always tried to foment conflicts in order to
divide and conquer. In the case of Palestinians, as [the Lebanese LGBT group]
Helem concluded, “[T]he rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and
transgenders should not be placed in competition with the long struggle of the
Palestinian people, including Palestinian LGBT people, for self-determination,
for the right to return to their homes, and the struggle against apartheid and
the occupation of their lands.”
Today we see how the imperialists—the U.S. to Israelis—use the
experiences of women, of gays, of transgenders as pretexts for imperialist war.
The white supremacist ideology replaces the colonial claim of “bringing
civilization,” into imperialist claims that they are “bringing
democracy.” But Washington and Tel Aviv have brought ruthless reactionary
occupations to the Middle East.
Today the U.S. has made anti-gay, anti-trans, anti-woman rape and humiliation
part of its science of torture and repression from the U.S. torture camp in
imperialist-occupied Guantánamo, Cuba, to Abu Ghraib.
So when people in Cuba and around the world hear that Aswat was translating
into Arabic the call for Rainbow Solidarity with the Cuban Five—five
political prisoners held in the U.S. for the so-called crime of trying to halt
right-wing commando terrorist attacks on Cuba from U.S. soil—they
understand that Aswat is speaking the language of solidarity.
Helem also inspired millions with its eloquent support for the global movement
to boycott Jerusalem Pride 2006 “as part of the international boycott of,
and divestment from Israel.” And people in Lebanon and around the world
saw Helem provide shelter, food and other supplies to many refugees who escaped
the war zone in the south and the southern suburbs of Beirut. I send my
solidarity to Helem, and to all the Lebanese people. I salute the victory of
your people over the Israeli military, armed and backed by the Pentagon.
I raise my voice here in solidarity with the Iraqi and Iranian people of all
sexualities and genders who are fiercely resisting imperialism. We are working
hard to defend you.
The anti-war movement worldwide, particularly in the imperialist countries,
needs to hear your Aswat. So my work here is to help to amplify the Palestinian
Aswat, the Arab Aswat. I will listen carefully, closely and respectfully to
My actions also demonstrate my support for the growing world economic boycott
of Israel. I did not buy a plane ticket to travel here. Minnie Bruce
Pratt—a poet warrior, comrade, and my partner in life and
love—sends her solidarity to Aswat by contributing 140,000 of her
frequent flyer miles for my airline ticket. Within the Israeli economy I will
not buy a single souvenir, not a postcard. I will only spend money for
In support of the cultural boycott of Israel, I turned down a request to speak
at Tel Aviv University. I will not speak a word of Hebrew or Yiddish while I am
here. I will not sign the Hebrew language translation of Stone Butch Blues. I
already send every penny of income I receive from the Hebrew edition to
I come here knowing that Tel Aviv and Washington may try to detain me because
my life does not fit into the either/or boxes of the U.S. passport. But I come
here to stand with Aswat.
It may seem that the colonial occupation of Palestine could last forever, but
it will not. With the Intifada and world support it will end, as surely as
apartheid in South Africa was ended by the long struggle of the Black people of
South Africa—who took up arms for liberation—and those of us who
fought alongside in solidarity, including for divestment. I am with you in your
I respect and defend your right to self-determination. I will fight alongside
you for every right—for full civil rights within the 1948 borders, for
transportation between the villages of the triangle, for an immediate end to
the economic embargo against the Palestinian people as collective punishment
for electing their own government representative, for an end to the siege of
the West Bank and Gaza at your side.
And I will be with you on the day that we tear down the colonial garrison state
of Israel and Palestine is free from this racist, theocratic, apartheid
imperialist occupation—the day when all those who planted the olive trees
will taste the fruit of freedom.
From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free! Long live Palestinian
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