Leslie Feinberg to Aswat: ‘I am at your side’

Leslie Feinberg, a lesbian transgender and Jewish communist and a managing editor of Workers World, delivered the following solidarity statement to the first public conference of Aswat—​Palestinian Gay Women—​in Haifa on March 28, 2007. Bracketed words, phrases and sentences were delivered in Arabic. The 10th anniversary of comrade Leslie’s death will be marked on Nov. 15.

[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 salute Aswat.]

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 male homosexuals].

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.

Britain imposed bigoted laws

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 manipulation.

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 us 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 LGBTQIA+ 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 Israeli—​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.

What solidarity looks like

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 your Aswat.

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 flier 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 food.

Minnie Bruce Pratt and Leslie Feinberg, defending Iran. (WW Photo: Mike Otto)

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 Aswat.

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 struggle.

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 Aswat!

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