Rainbow flag covers Israeli separation wall near Ramallah

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A Palestinian artist who painted a portion of Israel’s separation wall rainbow on Monday defended his work, calling it an expression of support for the freedom of the occupied Palestinian people.

“I went and painted the colors of the rainbow (on the wall) as these colors were circulated all over the world,” Ramallah-based visual artist Khaled Jarrar said in a statement. “These colors are ultimately an expression of freedom.”

In recent days, users on social media around the world have uploaded rainbow-colored pictures and logos on to demonstrate support for a recent US Supreme Court decision to allow gay marriage across that country.

The images of rainbow-colored flags have also become a common way to express support for LGBT rights and freedom of expression for sexual orientation and gender identity more broadly.

Jarrar said in the statement that he painted the flag in order to highlight the continuing oppression and lack of freedom that Palestinians experience under Israeli occupation.

“My goal is to send out a message to the whole world, which is celebrating freedom, about the oppressed people living under military occupation, mainly embodied in the Qalandiya checkpoint and the Apartheid Wall.”

“This work comes in a purely political context to draw the world’s attention of the Palestinian question, the wall, apartheid, and occupation.

By late Monday, the rainbow flag had drawn local and international attention, with hundreds in Palestine and abroad sharing images of the painting and posting positive comments.

At the same time, some users on social media reacted negatively. Some called the painting of the flag a sign of disrespect to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, as it partially covered nearby graffiti calling for their release.

Others, however, took offense at the flag’s association with gay marriage, and on Monday evening a few men gathered and painted over it.

Painting over the wall.

The painting over of the flag, however, drew the ire of many Palestinians on social media, who decried the move as “backwards” and “stupid.”

The debate over the flag may reflect the fact that while homosexuality is legal under Palestinian law in the West Bank, open expression of queer identity remains an issue of controversy in many parts of the country.

In the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, the British law prohibiting same-sex relations remains technically in force, though prosecution is rare or nonexistent.

A number of organizations dedicated to queer and trans rights exist within Palestinian society, most prominently Al Qaws and Aswat, and they have pushed for greater social openness around sexuality more broadly.

Activists say that Israel has made their work more difficult, however, by trying to portray itself as a savior of gay Palestinians.

Many have accused the Israeli government of “pinkwashing” the occupation by trying to sell the country as gay-friendly abroad in order to obscure its myriad human rights violations against Palestinians.

Activists argue, however, that queer Palestinians suffer under the occupation just like all other Palestinians, and denounce what they deem a “colonial logic” that is reminiscent of divide-and-conquer tactics.

In 2014, 43 Israeli military intelligence reservists said in a letter that they would refuse to serve any longer because of what they called the “political persecution” of Palestinians, which they said included the blackmailing of LGBTQ Palestinians.

The reservists admitted in the letter that the Israeli military tracked Palestinian sexual preferences and would “make (…) life miserable” for “homosexuals” who happened to know wanted individuals, confirming what Palestinian activists had been saying for years prior.