The writer of the letter below, Brown Bear Roar, has started a new blog called Under the Jasmine. Follow them!
Dear queer communities,
On this Nakba day, I am remembering those Palestinians who were forced from their homes by the newly arrived European Zionist settlers. 67 years ago today, Israel was created on our displacement, massacres, and rape. The refugees who have been internally displaced or made stateless before or after 1948 have still not yet returned. But we will.
I am remembering the Palestinian women who fled carrying what they could: their memories, their stories, their families. I am also remembering those that stayed, refusing to leave their land, braving Zionist rape, fear mongering, massacres. I am remembering the five hundred villages that were obliterated, still alive in our minds today.
On this Nakba day, I am remembering the resilience of my people, how their stories are stored in my heart and body, how their displacement is etched into my life. I carry their struggle on my shoulders and in my heart not just today but everyday.
As I remember the Nakba, I remember that globally, settler colonialisms are not disparate strands, but are interwoven with the histories of other lands. We see this fact demonstrated in Canada’s undying support for Israel. Like a web, the threads of settler colonialisms come together to support each other. When one string breaks, so will another, and another, and another.
I am writing to you today from Coast Salish territories. I have lived as a settler on the the traditional, unceded and occupied territories of the xʷməθkʷəyəm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) nations for many years. When I am talking about Palestine, I also remember the resilience of Indigenous nations who have been resisting settler colonialism on their lands for over 500 years. I remember that Indigenous folks are incarcerated by the state through the injustice system, that thousands of Indigenous women are missing or murdered and the government does not consider this an epidemic of settler violence. I remember the communities resisting resource development on their lands. In making connections, I strive to honour the differences in our struggles and context. I am still learning how to oppose and dismantle the systems that benefit me.
I decided to write this letter to you regarding the Vancouver Queer Film Festival (VQFF) because I am enraged, and because I feel it is time that a Palestinian queer voice was finally heard.
For almost three years, the VQFF has been challenged on their promotion of pinkwashing. Pinkwashing is the depiction of Israel as queer friendly in order to obscure or justify Israeli settler colonialism. In 2012, the VQFF screened two movies, “Joe + Belle” and “Invisible Men”, both of which were promoted by or received funding from Israeli instititions. “Invisible Men” is centered around a pinkwashing narrative wherein benevolent Israeli queers save Palestinian queers from their “backwards” homophobic society. This fantasy has been debunked in this article. Queer community members protested these film screenings and asked VQFF to adopt a Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) resolution.
In 2013, the VQFF hosted a panel titled, “Why or why not? Cultural Boycott?” The panel did not include any Palestinians, all the speakers were white presenting and did not identify themselves as otherwise. In 2014, while Gaza was being bombed by Israel, the VQFF published an ad from Yad B’Yad, a pinkwashing organization, in their film guide. In response to protests, they said they would reassess their policies. The language they used such as the “Israeli/Palestinian conflict” is not only inaccurate, but has been identified by Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) as normalization. Normalization is when Palestinians and Israeli settlers are depicted as equals by erasing historical and ongoing Israeli settler colonialism. Normalization is part of the boycott.
There was resounding community outrage regarding the Yad B’Yad ad, and two films pulled out of the festival: Sins Invalid and Can Candan’s My Child. Radical Access Mapping Project (RAMP) and Simon Fraser Public Interest Research (SFPIRG) released open letters to the VQFF. Though the VQFF donated the funds from the Yad B’Yad ad, they still used the film guides containing the ad for the festival. On April 22, 2015, the VQFF released an open letter on the subject announcing that they would not be adopting a BDS resolution.
Why is pinkwashing important? Since queer rights have become a marker of progressiveness, pinkwashing is an important way that Israeli settler colonialism maintains itself. Israel uses PR to rationalize its colonialism, and pinkwashing is part of that PR. As a tool of the Israeli state, this discourse cannot be underestimated in its power to materially impact the lives of Palestinians. While the VQFF tries to decontextualize pinkwashing from its Palestinian roots, it was Palestinian queer activists who first named this marketing strategy, started organizing against it, and continue to fight it.
From the beginning, the approach of the VQFF has been to evaluate whether or not BDS is a valid form of resistance. Their 2013 panel consisted of several non-Palestinian and white presenting speakers debating the “efficacy” of cultural boycotts in the context of Palestine. From their most recent letter, it is clear to me that their approach has not changed. In case anyone is still wondering, no one can tell us Palestinians how to resist except ourselves. Our self determination is not up for discussion or evaluation.
The festival’s approach of evaluating BDS is paternalistic and colonial. Their approach suggests that somehow a handful of mostly non-Palestinian and white settlers have the authority to determine the terms of Palestinian resistance. It is absurd that a non-Palestinian and mostly white organization has felt entitled to evaluate the legitimacy of a widely supported method of Palestinian anti-colonial struggle only to find that BDS is not in line with their “anti-oppressive framework”. If there is no room for BDS in their “anti-oppressive framework”, there is no room for me at the festival. Although the VQFF states they want to be accountable, learning how to center and be in solidarity with Palestinian queers when you have participated in pinkwashing the colonization of our homeland would be a start.
I am writing this letter to queer communities instead of the VQFF because the festival has shown itself to be instrasigent to change. After almost three years, they have still not adopted a BDS resolution. Worse still, their latest letter employs all the usual Zionist arguments and the language of “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and “‘sides”. Colonialism is colonialism, and it is important to name it as such. Even after ample time, VQFF has demonstrated that they do not understand the basics of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli settler colonialism or BDS.
In my heart, I feel a deep rage at how VQFF’s actions have impacted me, how they have participated in pinkwashing, a discourse that attempts to erase both my ancestry and queerness. VQFF claims, “There’s room for us all,” but there is no room for me at a festival which has repeatedly fucked up, not been accountable, and failed woefully to center or even consider Palestinian queers throughout this process. If the VQFF cannot even adopt a BDS resolution after printing an ad from a pinkwashing organization while my people were being bombed to death in Gaza, boycott is the only answer.
On this Nakba day, I am remembering the resilience of my ancestors. How can we honor their gift of resistance not just today, but every day?
Now that we know the festival will not take it upon themselves to change, we boycott! And we tell our friends and communities why we are boycotting. We write letters to filmmakers asking them to withdraw their films from the festival. We create alternative venues to showcase and celebrate the creative resistance of our communities within an anti-oppressive framework that includes Palestinian liberation. We actively find ways to oppose colonialism and genocide here on unceded Coast Salish territories, in Palestine and beyond.
This author is a South West Asian queer settler on the traditional, occupied and unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəyəm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) nations. They finally decided it was finally time to wade through the VQFF’s bullshit to express their rage.