Thursday, February 23, 2006

Gay Palestinians, Israel, and "Collaborators"

My TMV co-blogger HollyRob sent me an interesting article in The Forward about Gay Palestinians and their desire to flee to Israel. Anti-gay sentiment is so strong in Palestine (and the Arab world in general) that these people brave tight Israeli border security to try and make it to Tel Aviv. Israel is by far the only state in the Middle East with meaningful tolerance and protection for its homosexual minority.

The article slams Israel for giving virtually no allowance to these asylum seekers. Apparently they were very tough to begin with, and when in 2002 a group of Palestinians used their Israeli identity cards issued under a family re-unification law to assist suicide bombers, the country tightened its laws yet further.

I'm a big advocate for giving bona fide refugees asylum, though I think Israel is a bit of a special case given that it's one of the few countries where "border security" isn't hyperbole but an actual life-and-death matter. I do think that Israel could be doing much more for these people--even they can't keep them in Israel, giving them temporary asylum while negotiating 3rd-country asylum status seems very reasonable (this seems like an issue America could help with immensely). But I think we should keep in mind the context here--the article seems a bit too trigger happy in condemning Israel for not unconditionally granting asylum, and barely even notches a condemnation of Palestine for letting these people be stoned to death if they stay at home.

On that note, I'd like to make a brief aside about something that's bothered me for a long time regarding the I/P issue--calling Palestinians who assist Israel "collaborators." The article used this language in making the argument that Palestinians, knowing how susceptible their gay comrades are to blackmail, assume that they are or are vulnerable to becoming collaborators for fear of exposure. They use it again further:
Several petitions are pending in the Supreme Court in Jerusalem challenging the [asylum] law on constitutional grounds, because there is no exception for those with a well-founded fear of persecution. (There is an exception for people who "identify with the State of Israel and its goals" and who "performed a material act to advance the security" of the state - in other words, collaborators - thus validating the common suspicion among Palestinians.)

I hate this rhetoric. Technically, of course, "collaborator" is value-neutral, it just denotes a person who helps another organization. But in war time, it takes on a very clear connotation of assisting the enemy, of doing wrong. The paradigmatic collaborator is a Nazi collaborator in occupied France. The problem with applying "collaborator" here, then, is that there is almost no way to condemn what these people are doing as "wrong" if one believes (as most people at least profess to) that Palestinian terror operations are evil and should be stopped. Giving intelligence to a body to stop an action that is nominally regarded by both sides as something that needs to be stopped can't rationally be called "collaboration" in the classical sense. The fact that the body is Israel, as opposed to the PA, is completely irrelevant to this analysis--a rational actor could (and almost definitely would) conclude that if he wants his information to actually get in the hands of people who could intervene to stop the violent act, the IDF is far better situated than the PA.

In fact, I think that giving information to the IDF about terrorist attacks is pro-Palestinian, because giving the IDF more specific information let's them tailor their response strategies to particular events, rather than having to depend heavily on general defense strategies that heavily burden the entire populace. In other words, there are two different plausible scenarios here. The first is that the IDF gets little or no information from "collaborators", but still is obviously aware that there is a vibrant terror infrastructure in Palestine, and attacks that are and will continue to come. Without anything in the way of specifics, though, they have to make very general responses--building big walls, really secure checkpoint systems, and invasive sweeps. I'd say that pretty well characterizes the status quo. Alternatively, consider an environment where they get a lot of specific information. Then they can use that information to tailor their responses accordingly. If a town has overall positive views toward Israel and isn't harboring terrorists, it can get much more relaxed security arrangements, while if a city block is a particular terror hotspot, it can get a pinpoint raid without sending troops through the whole town. That's obviously qualitatively better for Palestinians, because it more precisely tailors the burden of Israeli security needs on the people who are actually causing the problem, rather than the population at large.

It may seem counter-intuitive to assert that Palestinians helping the Israeli government aren't in some sense betraying their own people. But that's because we've implicitly come to associate "Palestinian interest" with "terrorism", and I don't think that's fair (one could argue that's closetly racist). Everyone should agree that Palestine would be far better off if it didn't resort to terrorism, just as everyone should agree that Palestine would be better off if it was a free, democratic state. If we agree to these terms, then we should laud Palestinians who are actively stepping up to fight terrorism. That's far more "pro-Palestinian" than anything Hamas has ever done.

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