“The Invisible Men”
Palestinian Gays in Israel
One of the important films being screened this year at the Boston LGBT Film Festival is a new Israeli documentary by Yariv Mozer, “The Invisible Men”. With so much being said and written about Israel’s treatment of Palestinian refugees, it is good to see a side of the situation that shows a little heart. As most of you have read, Tel Aviv has recently taken the title of the gayest city in Europe but let me tell you it was not always that way. When I lived there in the 70’s, we were constantly hassled by the police and the citizens. There were no gay bars and the only meeting place was in public parks that the police would frequently raid. Today, it is completely different and it is not at all strange to see two men or two women walking down the street holding hands. But that is not what this film is about.
Set in Tel Aviv, we meet Louie, 31 who scouts the area by looking right, left and all around as he walks onto a side street and carefully looks at the people standing there. He walks to the bus stop and waits but he never looks up. Around his neck hangs a Star of David, an outward symbol of the Jewish people. He has a kipah (or yarmulke) and he wonders whether or not he should put it on. He gets on the bus and notices a good looking man sitting not far away but then he spots a border policeman and begins to panic.
Louis is a Palestinian and he is gay. He has escaped the stringent Muslim laws against homosexuality by hiding and living in Tel Aviv and pretending to be what he is not. He has done this for years and he is alone and lonely. He left the closet of his home town of Nablus (Schem) so that he could be openly gay and instead entered another closet, that of a Palestinian living within the borders of the Jewish State of Israel. He found a way to be gay in a way that the Palestinian society does not allow but he is forced to avoid other Palestinians as well as Arab Israelis who could tell his family about him. He has relatives in Jaffa but they cannot know where or who he is. He has no real address, he cannot get a passport, he is friendless and the only love he gets is momentary and anonymous in most cases. This is Louie’s story but it is also the story of many others and it is a sad story and a terrible commentary on life. Louie is invisible and there are other invisible men—in the gay underground of the West Bank, in prisons and in Gaza where they live in secret. Then there are those that come to Tel Aviv looking for love and themselves while pretending to be who they are not.
This is a beautifully painful film; especially for me who had friends who came from the West Bank to Israel so that they could express themselves and then found out it was not so easy. When I went up to the Golan Heights from my kibbutz on the Sea of Galilee to help build he town of Katzrin, I had several Arab friends who were gay and the only place they could be themselves was in my home. I applaud Yariv Mozer for making this film and I can just imagine what went through his mind as he was making it. It is a true and painful look at a situation for which we see no solution but by his making it available to the masses, he sheds light on a very delicate problem. I can only hope that these invisible men will have the chance to become visible—not just to us and the world but to themselves.