Behind the Pride Flag: Pinkwashing and Palestinian Oppression

Behind the Pride Flag: Pinkwashing and Palestinian Oppression
Photo by Alexander Grey via Unsplash


Perla Khaled

Middle East and Human Rights Researcher 

Global Human Rights Defence

Amid ongoing Israeli attacks on civilians in Gaza, an Israeli soldier raised a rainbow flag in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community, reigniting discussions regarding “pinkwashing” and the Israeli regime’s manipulative use of its liberal image to divert attention from its sustained and deliberate attacks against Palestinians. [1]

The image of the soldier holding the flag, inscribed with the words “in the name of love” in English, Arabic, and Hebrew initially surfaced on X, formerly Twitter, with the caption “the first-ever pride flag raised in Gaza.” [2] It quickly gained traction across various social media platforms, including Israeli state accounts and its embassies globally. These outlets seized the opportunity to reiterate Israel’s support for LGBTQ+ individuals, contrasting it with the perceived taboo surrounding homosexuality in Palestine. [3] The soldier, Yoav Atzmoni, asserted that only the Israeli army in the region “allows gay people the freedom to be who [they] are” emphasising his firm belief in the righteousness of their cause. [4]

Behind the soldier in the image lay Gazan streets and buildings buried under rubble, where more than 17,000 Palestinians, including 7,208 children, have been killed by Israeli attacks since October 7. [5]

In the context of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, “pinkwashing” denotes Israel’s deliberate exploitation of its stance on LGBTQ+ rights to appear more liberal and democratic and deflect global attention from its human rights abuses against Palestinians. [6] Israel’s pinkwashing strategy strives to paint Palestine as homophobic, backward, and barbaric, and appear as inherently superior. [7] These racist portrayals serve to justify Israel’s ongoing apartheid by framing it as a form of queer salvation, supposedly “saving” Palestinian queers from their oppressive familial environments. [8]

Advocates for Israel frequently depict queer Palestinians as isolated victims, perpetuating a narrative that juxtaposes Palestinian conservatism with Israeli progressivism. [9] This discourse aims to characterise Palestine as intrinsically homophobic, suggesting that dissenting voices cannot exist within its borders. [10] The concept of “pinkwashing” therefore conveys to queer Palestinians that their path to liberation lies in departing from their communities and seeking refuge with the oppressors. This narrative distracts from the enduring decades-long occupation they have had to endure.

Moreover, Palestinian queers are among those who face harassment, brutality, imprisonment, and become victims of Israeli bombings. Despite the freedoms granted to Jewish LGBTQ+ individuals in Israel, being queer does not exempt Palestinians from ongoing brutal assaults. On the contrary, LGBTQ+ Palestinians are deliberately targeted, pressured, and subjected to blackmail by Israeli soldiers. [11]

International queer solidarity and collective liberation are contingent upon dismantling extensive structural violence and unequivocally denouncing Israel’s genocidal attacks and occupation of Palestine. Oppression manifests through multifaceted intersectional dimensions encompassing race, gender, sexuality, and class. Failing to account for the broader social and political context in the case of Palestine inadvertently maintains an ideological cover that impedes Israel’s accountability for its systemic crimes.

LGBTQ+ Palestinians have sought to challenge these prevailing narratives through platforms like Queering the Map, an interactive website that enables users to share their queer experiences. [12] On the Gazan map, the submission date of these stories is unknown, rendering it difficult to discern which Israeli attack claimed the lives of the mentioned persons. One story from the platform recounts,

“I don’t know how long I will live so I just want this to be my memory here before I die. I am not going to leave my home, come what may. My biggest regret is not kissing this one guy. He died two days back. We had told how much we liked each other and I was too shy to kiss last time. He died in the bombing. I think a big part of me died too. And soon I will be dead. To younus, I will kiss you in heaven.” [13]

Sexual and gender-based oppression in Palestine cannot be dismantled within the structures of Israeli racism and colonisation, and true universal queer emancipation remains unattainable without Palestinian liberation.

Sources and further reading:

[1] France 24, ‘Gaza pride flag images reignite 'pinkwashing' debate’ (21 November 2023) <Gaza pride flag images reignite 'pinkwashing' debate> accessed 26 November 2023.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Reliefweb, ‘Euro-Med Monitor to UN: Recognise Israel’s actions in Gaza as genocide’ (22 November 2023) <Euro-Med Monitor to UN: Recognise Israel’s actions in Gaza as genocide - occupied Palestinian territory | ReliefWeb.> accessed 29 November 2023.

[6] Kohl Journal, ‘Pinkwashing: Israel’s International Strategy and Internal Agenda’ (2015) <Pinkwashing: Israel’s International Strategy and Internal Agenda | Kohl> accessed 28 November 2023.