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Doc reveals dilemma of gay Palestinians

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Palestinian-born 'Louie,' left, bears the scars of his father's wrath; he's not safe in his own country because he is gay, but he is not welcome in Israel.

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Palestinian-born 'Louie,' left, bears the scars of his father's wrath; he's not safe in his own country because he is gay, but he is not welcome in Israel.

Call them double exiles.

The subjects of the Israeli film The Invisible Men are twice rejected -- in their Palestinian homeland and in Israel, where they seek refuge from persecution and violence.

The documentary focuses on gay Palestinians with a particular focus on "Louie," a man forced to leave his home under threat of violence by his own family upon being exposed as gay.

He escapes to Tel Aviv, where he can gain some degree of acceptance as a gay man. But, as an illegal, he is subject to rousting and arrest by Israeli police, who frequently transport him back to the West Bank, where he is once again endangered by his countrymen, including his own blood; Louie bears a grim scar on his face marking his father's apparent attempt to kill him.

The film screens Sunday morning at the Winnipeg Convention Centre under the auspices of the 21st Conference of GLBT Jews. The film's director, Yariv Mozer, will be in attendance to participate in a Q&A session after the screening.

In a Skype interview at the Free Press News Caf© on Wednesday, Mozer discussed his inspiration to make the film.

"Being gay myself, I felt always curious to know what was happening behind the separation wall between Israel and the West Bank," Mozer says. "I really wanted to know about the lives of gay Palestinians, and I started the research, and the first guy I met became the hero of my film, Louie.

"After meeting him and hearing his story, I decided to start doing the film."

At the beginning of the film, Louie poignantly believes himself to be entirely unique and alone.

"Louie was afraid to meet Arabs in general," Mozer says. "Part of his family lives in Jaffa so he was more afraid of Palestinians and Arabs than of Jews and Israelis because he was afraid that someone will tell his family and they will know where he is."

Over the course of making the film, Louie discovers others in his predicament, including Abdu, a young man who had been tortured by Palestinian authorities under the belief that, as a gay Palestinian, he must be in league with Israel.

"Gay Palestinians are usually running away from their home society and being persecuted not only by their own families but the secret service and the police, (who are) blaming them for co-operating with Israel -- Israel being perceived as the west influence," Mozer says.

"And when they come to Israel, they need to hide because they're illegal Palestinians."

The film is implicitly critical of Israel's policy of routinely arresting men like Louie and Abdu and sending them back to the West Bank at the risk of their lives. Yet Mozer's film was accused of "pinkwashing" -- enhancing Israel's reputation through the lens of gay sensibility at Palestine's expense -- when it screened at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival last year. The accusation came because the film was largely funded by the Israeli government.

Mozer repudiates the accusation.

"(They) are accusing me that this film was sponsored by the Israeli government in order to show Israel in a better way than Palestine, which is ridiculous because the Israeli government, as in Canada, sponsors the whole film industry and not this film in particular," he says.

"I think that this film is criticizing Israel not less or more than Palestinian society," he says.

"I think the film is showing the complexity of the whole situation of gay Palestinians," he says, sardonically dismissing the possibility Israeli power players would be canny enough to use his doc as a propaganda tool.

"I don't think the prime minister or the current government is smart enough to think of such a thing," Mozer says.

The Invisible Men screens at the Convention Centre Sunday, July 7, at 10 a.m.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2013 D3

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Updated on Friday, July 5, 2013 at 9:05 AM CDT: adds fact box

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