A young gay man, who fled to Israel to escape persecution in Palestine and was seeking asylum abroad, has been kidnapped and brutally murdered in the West Bank.
Ahmed Hacham Hamdi Abu Marakhia, 25, fled Palestine two years ago after his sexual orientation was revealed. He had been living in Israel after authorities acknowledged his life would be in danger if he returned to Palestine.
He was about to begin the process of seeking asylum abroad – potentially in Canada – at the time of his death.
Ahmed was killed Wednesday (5 October) in Hebron, a Palestinian city in the southern West Bank, Mako reported. A horrific video of his decapitated body lying on a roadside was circulated on Palestinian social networks.
Authorities have opened an investigation into Ahmed’s death, but his friends and activists in Israel believed the reason for his death was his sexual orientation.
Israeli Labour Party MK Ibtisam Mara’ana mourned Ahmed’s death in a message posted on social media.
“Ahmad, who stayed in an Israeli shelter due to his sexuality, was murdered by a vicious and twisted killer,” she wrote.
“In the next government, we intend to complete the Palestinian LGBT revolution.”
Tomer Aldubi – a volunteer in the Different House, an organisation that helps LGBTQ+ Palestinians find asylum abroad, and a journalist for Mako – told PinkNews Ahmed had left his hostel in Israel to travel to his job on Wednesday.
But he said Ahmed’s friends and people at the hostel became concerned later in the day when he “did not answer his calls”.
He said there were rumours that Ahmed was killed because the “video was already out”. He got a call from Ahmed’s social worker at about 11pm about the story because “people were 90 per cent sure it was him”.
Aldubi, who is also a theatre director, briefly met Ahmed when he produced a play titled Sharif about gay Palestinians fleeing from the West Bank to Israel. He described Ahmed as a “good person” who had built a community of friends.
“He came all the way from Tel Aviv with his best friend, and I talked with him,” Aldubi said. “I met him just once. He was very nice, very quiet – actually did not talk a lot.”
“He seemed to be intelligent, and it was only a brief discussion but I know that he had many friends here.”
Aldubi said Ahmed’s friends and Rita Petrenko, the CEO of the Different House, believed the 25-year-old had been kidnapped or forcibly taken back to Palestine.
He had been told by others that there was “no reason for [Ahmed] to go back independently” as he knew it was “dangerous for him back there”.
“All he wanted to do was eventually immigrate to another place,” Aldubi said. “He was on the list.”
“He was going to be the next one, according to Rita – who was in charge of his permit and visa bureaucracy with the Canadian authorities. He was waiting for that.”
The Palestinian Authority (PA) police issued an official statement in August 2019 encouraging members of the public to report on the activities of LGBTQ+ groups in the West Bank.
LGBTQ+ Palestinians face direct opposition imposed by a conservative society, as well as the external conflict Palestinians face with Israel.
In Palestine, the state is fractured by war and diplomatic division so there is mixed legal recognition of LGBTQ+ lives. Being gay is illegal in the Gaza Strip, and sentences for male same-sex sexual activity can include a maximum penalty of ten years’ imprisonment.
Homosexuality is not illegal in the West Bank, but LGBTQ+ people face discrimination and violence in the region.
Some queer people in Palestine have reported instances of corrupt officers keeping tabs on LGBTQ+ citizens and some being blackmailed into working as pieces or informants for law enforcement.
LGBTQ+ Palestinians can flee into neighbouring Israel, where support for queer rights is on the rise.
Activists told PinkNews that queer Palestinian people fear potential retribution from Palestinian authorities or their families while also facing discrimination while awaiting asylum abroad in Israel.
Aldubi explained many people in Israel “don’t want to work with them or to give them a job” because they “cannot hide” their Palestinian, Arab or LGBTQ+ identity.
“It’s very difficult for them,” he said.
“They prefer not to be in mixed cities or mixed places like Arab cities or Palestinian cities.”
“So they do go to places – to Tel Aviv or other communities – and it’s very dangerous for them. They succeed in managing or surviving, but it’s not easy. It’s very difficult.”
He added there were concerns the PA police will “close the investigation fairly fast” if they believe the reason he was killed was that he “insulted the family” due to his sexual orientation.
‘We don’t feel safe’
Eran Rosenzweig, an LGBTQ+ activist in Israel, told PinkNews that the news of Ahmed’s death was particularly devastating because he was “part of the gay community”.
“It’s much less traditional in the gay community in Israel than in other communities,” he said. “They [Palestinian and Arabic LGBTQ+ people] are a part of us.”
“There is solidarity between us. It’s very hurtful for us to know there are people, who are in Israel, that are facing violence – and it was such brutal violence.
“We don’t feel safe because we have attacks on gay clubs and people in mixed areas. There is a direct effect, and we don’t feel safe.”
Rosenzweig said LGBTQ+ Palestinians “are not safe here” in Israel because they are in constant fear of persecution from their families and the Palestinian Authority as they face lengthy wait times for asylum abroad.
“And now you see, it’s too late for them – it was too late for [Ahmed],” he said.
“I want the embassies in Israel and authorities in Europe, North Africa, America to notice them and to try to help give them refugee status to help save them.”