June 15, 2015, Posted by Melanie Nathan
Respected Nigerian born LGBTI activist and human rights defender, Davis Mac-lyalla, who has personally experienced unconscionable persecution and discrimination, attended what turned out to be Tel Aviv’s largest ever Pride festivities this past week. I asked him to write a brief note about his experience at Pride. Here is his response:
My friend Melanie Nathan asked me to write something about my experience in Tel Aviv Pride. Here is what I think: As a Nigeria born LGBTI rights activist I think it’s a great achievement for the people of Israel to be able to celebrate Pride Parade publicly. Remember that Israel is not Europe or America. I have attended bigger Prides in London, San Francisco, Madrid and other parts of the world. It was different and unique because of its size and importantly also because of the less commercial atmosphere where everyone is focused on the main theme – that we are there to protest and celebrate at the same time.
During my travel to the Palestinian territory I was able to go out on my own to meet local people and chat with them about what it feels like to live in the region. Many shared with me their frustration which is cursed by the conflicts. I asked them if they backed the boycott of Israel, and each one in different places, responded similarly saying for example, “No, we are not backing the boycott of Israel. “I would ask why that is so? ” Abu, a shop keeper asked: “who is going to buy our vegetables if Israel is boycotted?”
I spoke to a man who identified as homosexual. He told me that they needed help because it’s dangerous to be homosexual in Palestine. “You can be persecuted and even killed,” he said to me. “Your family and community will disown you if you are known to be homosexual.” He asked me how I can help him flee to safety because the authorities in his community have made it clear that anyone seen trying to cross to Israel will be executed. “They want us to remain here to promote local propaganda against Israel,” he said to me.
All the Palestinians who I spoke to while in the Palestinian region of the Palestinian authority all expressed one view which I can describe as follows “We are more afraid and worried about ISIS and Al Queada than Israel. We recognise the problem and the pains caused by the Israeli occupation of our land but we are also sure that the conflict will not be solved by war and killing each other. All we ask for is peace from both sides.”
The local Palestinians who I spoke with make it very clear that the international community are not asking and listening to their views. They invite those calling for the boycott of Israel to come down and meet them and see things for themselves. Palestine is divide deeply internally as to what they want or which way they want to go.
The opinions of those I spoke to, was clear – Anyone calling for a boycott of Israel, they acknowledge as the strong security force that is defending the region against fundamental terrorists, are directly or indirectly supporting ISIS and Al Quaeda and putting the people of Palestine and Israel at risk of terrorist attack.
When I was the invited by A Wider Bridge, an organization which builds connections with LGBT people and Israel, I was not sure of what to expect. I must admit I had mixed feelings and I consulted widely as if I should make the trip or not. Most of my friends were frightened for me and advised me not to go, suggesting that if I do go to Israel, my human rights career will be boycotted and i could be blacklisted by my own international community because of the issue of occupied Palestinian territories.
Personally, I was not convinced that I should boycott Israel purely on popular opinion. I felt that I had been given a chance to go and see things for myself. I knew that if I did not take this risk, it would mean that I would never find the truth for myself. I really wanted to know what is happening in the region and so I accepted the invite. Another reason why I accepted to come to Israel was because I care about the people in the region, on both sides. I had a right to visit where I wanted and to make my own decisions. I was not restricted. Let me be clear, I am no supporter of the Israeli government in some of their actions and activities. There are beautiful people in Israel who are working for peace, equality and human rights of all people and are as frustrated as the rest of us. If you stay afar, you will think that Israel is all about war and conflict, no its not. The best way to know Israel is to come to Israel and I will tell you that you will never regret it. There is no pink washing; Israel is a safe place for LGBT people. Boycotting Israel is like throwing away the baby with the water. As I have said before, any LGBTI rights gained in Israel or any part of the world is the hope of my Nigerian LGBT brothers and sisters.
Note from Melanie Nathan: I want to be clear that when I asked Davis to write a piece on his experience at Pride in Israel, I thought he would write about Pride, only. I was surprised to receive so much narrative on his general impressions of the situation in the area. I did not know he had visited the Palestinian territory. I was impressed with and endorse the purity, courage and openness of this expression of his experience in Israel – and hope that the human rights world will take note that one can express disagreement with some of a government’s actions and sentiment without turning on the people – without hurting people’s dreams on both side’s of a conflict. Also, at the same time, one can embrace, protect and foster the beauty and importance of Israel, for all, in the region. Surely that is indeed more productive. Thank you Davis! Let us hope that Israel continues to be the crucial beacon it is proving to be, for LGBTI human rights in the region and around the world, and that equality gains will continue to be made while all people of the region are ultimately led to peace.
Read MORE about Pride in Tel Aviv HERE.
Melanie Nathan is the executive Director of The African Human Rights Coalition.