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Gay Arabs and Jews come together in Tel Aviv

Palestinian gay party rocks Israel

Revellers kick it at gay pride last year in Tel Aviv, Israel. Credit: Xtra.ca

June 11 is Pride Day in Tel Aviv, and Israel’s party capital was packed with great, gay events. But I doubt any of them was as much fun as the one I found myself at a couple of months ago.

It all started with a lame LGBT picnic in a downtown park, right next to Tel Aviv’s gay and lesbian resource centre. I arrived with my friend Mimi, a lefty dyke, and her five-year-old son Boaz, to find a rainbow flag and a small band of bored-looking Jewish queers. It was just hours before my only Friday night in Tel Aviv, and I was determined to find the best party possible.

One of the fags at the picnic, a young guy named Zohar, said he and a friend were planning to check out a gay Arab party. I asked him what that meant but he said he didn’t know – he’d never gone to one before. He gave me the address and encouraged me to check it out.

Hours later, after primping at Mimi’s, I handed the address to a cab driver. He didn’t have a clue where it was and neither did I. After all, I was a tourist in Israel. As I told my friends back home, I was there “to see what the fuss is all about.”

I was about to find out where the fuss was on that Friday night. The cabbie had to stop three times to ask for directions, until we finally came upon a warehouse district. Finally, upon hearing the address, a guy said, “That’s the gay party around the corner.” He didn’t look like he was involved with it but he didn’t look like he minded it, either.

 “Do you think it’s all right if I go?” I asked.

“Yeah, of course,” he said.

I was a bit suspicious, since he pointed toward a dark alley. But when the cab turned, we suddenly found what I was looking for: gay men. And these weren’t just any gay men, they were the most beautiful group of gay men I’ve ever seen in my life.

There were about 50 guys, mostly wearing dark T-shirts and jeans, milling about and (in some cases) making out. Most of the guys had dark, tanned skin, dark brown eyes, thick black eyebrows and amazing physiques.

I heard music, which I followed into a large warehouse space. The entrance had a banner announcing the name of the host organization: Al-Qaws (Rainbow) for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society. A gorgeous guy at the entrance asked for 30 shekels ($8) and stamped my hand.

Inside, the party was sensational. There were about 200 sweaty guys – all around a massive bar – and just about everyone was shaking their hips, flailing their arms and belly-dancing to loud Arabic pop music. There was no border between the dancefloor and the rest of the party. The whole space was a dancefloor, with guys (many of them shirtless) moving to the beat in groups of three or four, singing along and switching partners between songs.

In the centre of it all, on top of the bar, was a drag queen dressed in a white wedding dress, enthusiastically lifting her skirt. And on a riser right behind her was Zohar, the Jewish guy I met at the picnic. He was there with another guy I saw that afternoon. At first I thought they were boyfriends, but they were so friendly with so many other guys around them that I couldn’t figure out if they were part of a twosome, a threesome, or a moresome. One thing’s for sure: they were having a wicked time.

At the end of the night, when everyone spilled out into the alley, I asked Zohar how many other Jewish guys were there. He shrugged and said he didn’t know. For him, it didn’t seem to matter. Then I found the organizer, a guy named Raafat, and asked for his estimate of the Jewish/Arab mix. Again, he shrugged and said he wasn’t counting. The party, he told me, was open to everyone.

When I got back to Mimi’s place, she and her partner Dana were still awake. They were fascinated, but not entirely surprised. In Israel, they admitted, Jews and Palestinians don’t often travel in the same social circles. But when it comes to the gay community, they said, there are a lot more connections than you might think.