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Distinction: on intersectionality in Berlin and in Palestine

Scholar Sa’ed Atshan is conducting research in Berlin on Israelis and Palestinians living here. Tomorrow, at the end of his visit, he’ll also give the talk "Being Queer and Palestinian in East Jerusalem" at ICI Berlin

Jul. 3, 2017 – Sa’ed Atshan grew up in Palestine on the West Bank in the 80s during the first intifada against Israeli occupation. Today, he is the Assistant Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Swarthmore College outside of Philadelphia. Sa’ed has also worked for the American Civil Liberties Union, for the UN High Commission on Refugees and for Human Rights Watch. SIEGESSÄULE editor Joey Hansom got to speak with Atshan about his background and motivations during the scholar's current research project in Berlin. On July 4, Atshan will give the talk "Being Queer and Palestinian in East Jerusalem". Note: the location of the talk has been moved to the ICI (Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry)

Sa’ed, what was it like growing up gay in Palestine? I grew up under Israeli military occupation, which meant that a foreign military controlled most aspects of our lives. I also grew up in a very patriarchal, conservative society, so homophobia is a problem within Palestinian society. Growing up under these two systems of oppression made it somewhat challenging. I am very blessed in that my family is loving, accepting and supportive. The occupation has exacerbated the homophobia within my society.

How so? I thought that Israel was one of the few gay-friendly places in the Middle East. If you are gay, Israel can be a haven in many ways. If you are white, European, Ashkenazi, Jewish, Israeli, cis-gendered male with a lot of money, living in very particular places like Tel Aviv, life is great. If you are an Ethiopian, black, Jewish, Israeli, poor woman in that same city, life is really hard. For LGBTQ Palestinians, life can be even more challenging. Israeli intelligence services will entrap them and blackmail them into working as informants and spies, or they will out you to your family. Despite the madness, Palestine has lush green, olives growing, great food, music and culture. I’m very privileged in many ways.

I knew there was a Christian minority in Palestine, but it never even occurred to me that there might be a Quaker population there. How has your faith informed your worldview? Quakers went from the US to Palestine in the 1800s, and a number of Orthodox Christians became Quakers. The Ramallah Friends School has been around since this time, and my family have gone there for generations, and I’m a proud alum. Many people don’t know that Jesus was born in Palestine, and was brown. He was a revolutionary, an anti-imperialist who took on the Roman Empire. As a historical figure, Jesus compels us to engage in social justice activism, to speak truth to power.

What brings you to Berlin, aside from your talk? I have speaking engagements including at Humboldt University, Freie Universität, the Harvard Alumni Club, and my talk at the Jewish Museum will be the last one of my visit. I am also doing a project with a dear friend, Katherine Galor, a Professor of Judaic Studies at Brown University. She’s German, Jewish and Israeli and the daughter of Holocaust survivors. We are researching Israeli and Palestinian communities in Berlin.

Why Berlin? People find it fascinating that there are around 30,000 Israelis living in Berlin now. For many, that’s counterintuitive, given the legacy of the Holocaust. The fact that Berlin is becoming a desirable location for young, creative, talented Israelis makes a lot of people curious. There are also at least 45,000 Palestinians living in Berlin, the largest population within any European city, yet it's largely invisible. There is research on Israelis in Berlin, but there needs to be more, and there's a dearth of scholarship on Palestinians in Berlin. There's nothing that brings the two together, thinking about their points of intersection and their differences. So we're doing a comparative study.

What will be the focus of your talk? It's going to be on East Jerusalem, that half of the city, not the rest of the West Bank. We're focusing specifically on the Palestinian population there, and even more specifically on the LGBTQ within. The museum currently has an exhibit on Jerusalem, showcasing the city's heritage for Jewish Israelis, for Palestinian Christians and for Palestinian Muslims. They want to have a broad range of speakers who can address different aspects of historical and contemporary life, to highlight its heterogeneity.

Interview: Joey Hansom

Talk: Being Queer and Palestinian in East Jerusalem
Jul. 4, 19:00, Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry



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