After Abu Khdeir murder, an ugly collision of homophobia and racism

After Mohammed Abu Khdeir was burned to death, many Israeli Jews insisted he died at the hands of Palestinians. They seized on unfounded rumors of his alleged homosexuality rather than facing the truth of the horrible act.

By Shaked Spier (Translated from Hebrew by Yossefa Mekyton and Shaked Spier)

Alongside the pain, belligerence and anger, it is important to say a few words about homophobia and racism, and how the two manifested after the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir. When the burned body of the Palestinian boy was found following public  incitement against Arabs – which peaked after the abduction and murder of Eyal, Gil-Ad and Naftali – it became likely that the murder had nationalistic motives. Of course, the timing could have been coincidental. It was not.

Palestinian residents of Shuafat stand above the body of Muhammad Abu Khdeir during his funeral. (photo: Activestills)
Palestinian residents of Shuafat stand above the body of Muhammad Abu Khdeir during his funeral. (photo: Activestills)

But a discussion concerning only essentialist categories of “us” and “them” – in which “they” are bloodthirsty animals and “we” are peaceful victims – cannot contain the possibility that “one of us” could have carried out a crime that is so typical of “them.”

Mohammed was a physically gentle boy, at least in his famous photo. A boy that, if one insists, can be seen as gay. And they, after all, are known to be homophobic. Moreover, we’re told, they publicly execute each and every gay and lesbian (minor detail: it’s not exactly true). And we? We give refuge to LGBTQ Palestinians! Though, sometimes we send them back despite the danger to their lives. And anyway, we have a pride parade in Tel Aviv, so obviously we are not homophobic.

So what if the parties in the government coalition are fighting vigorously against any LGBTQ rights? And so what if the Minister of Education recently claimed that gay couples should not be considered “families?” In the shallow world of racist generalizations everything is clear, and a police investigation certainly isn’t needed. They were the murderers – probably Mohammed’s neighbors who were not able to accept his sexual identity.

And what is this conclusion based on? On a single photo of a boy who does not fit the stereotype of a Palestinian man with a thick beard, a keffiyeh and a weapon. Therefore, he must be gay. And since they are bloodthirsty and homophobic, they must have killed him. It turns out that we are not only racists, but homophobes as well.

Muhammad Abu Khdeir.
Muhammad Abu Khdeir.

Using the alleged homosexuality of a boy who was burned alive to avoid cracks in a convenient worldview of us and them is a form of homophobia. This was manifested in the rumors surrounding the identity of Mohammed’s murderers – they must have been his neighbors or family members who discovered his sexual orientation. These rumors spread beyond the boundaries of social media and were referred to in news items with innuendos such as “The boy’s family vehemently denies rumors that he was kidnapped by Palestinians due to a family feud. According to them, the family is not involved in any conflict.” Information about the source of the rumors or its credibility is not considered relevant. However, the family’s response – according to them – is. Spreading such rumors (that have no factual basis, we now know) is blatantly homophobic and racist.

It is not simply a case of an intersection of racism and homophobia in order to discriminate against a person or a collective. Rather it is a case of instrumentalizing the individual in order to project homophobia that originated in our patterns of thought onto them. Moreover, this instrumentalization is already based on a generalized picture of the Palestinian – a picture that originates in our patterns of thought.

This is all in a quest to protect the delicate fabric of the dichotomy of us and them. That is, the combination of racism and homophobia that feed off each other and undergo instrumentalization to establish each other, only to preserve their delicate existence against a complex reality that keeps challenging them. From this perspective, it is not surprising that the suspects in this murder were sent for a psychological assessment, and that they claimed “insanity”  as their line of defense.

The pathologization of the act serves mechanisms that operated all along – distancing the act, the murderers, and even racism itself from normalcy (or moral superiority), which is a major component of our collective self-image. That image is built on distinguishing between us and them.

In other words, if one of us commits a crime typical of them, he or she must be insane, and thus not one of us. This keeps our patterns of thought intact. Order is restored.

And what if Mohammed really was gay?

This is not relevant. He was murdered because he was a Palestinian. But even if he were, we are still homophobic.

Shaked Spier recently graduated his MA degree at the Humboldt University of Berlin, where he studied Information Science and Gender Studies.
He is a political activist with main focus on issues of technology and society (especially net politics) as well as queer politics.

. This article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets.

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