by Allister Chang
“Meet me at Arafat Square,” my gay Palestinian friend Najeeb texted me, “I’ll take you to one of the queer cafés in Ramallah.” Not knowing how to say “square” in Arabic, my taxi ended up taking me to Arafat’s Tomb—an iron gate, guarded by Palestinian Authority officers with big guns. It was 1 A.M. No Najeeb. No phone credit. No cabs passing by. Then, one of the guards started walking toward me, and I felt a nervous sweat trickle down my back. I saw him reach for me and I flinched, before realizing that he was just offering me a cigarette. He flashed a handsome smile and, in perfect English asked, “Do you want a private tour of the tomb?”
Admittedly, I arrived in the West Bank with certain expectations of homophobia, xenophobia, and even violence. Asking my friends back home in Maryland if they wanted to join me on this trip, one responded: “I don’t want to die,” and another told me he “doesn’t want to go to the desert.” The Palestine that I discovered over the next two weeks in the West Bank was far more multifaceted, welcoming, and fun than the frightening and unidimensional vision of Palestine that we read about in our news headlines (Hamas terrorism, Muslim extremists, etc.).