The Electronic Intifada / June 24, 2021
Pride is supposed to commemorate a rebellion.
On 28 June 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay hangout in New York City, provoking riots now regarded as pivotal in the history of the LGBTQ movement.
It has become trendy for Western governments to fly the rainbow flag each June.
Such governments can display a selective attitude toward freedom that seems at odds with the spirit of Stonewall. They conveniently ignore how the revolt took place in an era of protest against racism and war.
Belgium’s diplomats in Tel Aviv have been marking Pride by organizing joint activities with a group called Hoshen.
The same Hoshen runs “sensitivity training” workshops on LGBTQ issues with Israel’s military and police.
“Sensitivity training” workshops for forces that subjugate an entire people should be treated with contempt. Palestinians cannot draw any comfort from knowing that their oppressors are taught to be open-minded toward the LGBTQ community.
Israel’s army killed more than 250 people in Gaza last month.
Its police have just this week sprayed skunk water – a foul-smelling chemical weapon – on Jerusalem’s Old City. That is akin to flooding the area around one of Islam’s holiest sites – the Al-Aqsa Mosque – with sewage.
While Belgium’s representatives in Tel Aviv have been pinkwashing Israeli apartheid, their colleagues back in Brussels have been callous toward Palestinians.
A total of 533 Palestinians living in Belgium have been refused refugee status, this year, according to the latest available data. That is well more than twice the number of Palestinians – 231 – whose refugee status was recognized by the Belgian authorities during this period.
A few weeks ago, the Belgian authorities announced that they had “temporarily suspended” issuing refusals of refugee status to Palestinians. The Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons in Brussels emphasized that the suspension would be “for a very short time” and “perhaps for not more than one month.”
Palestinians – especially those from Gaza – have often undertaken perilous journeys to Europe. By leaving Palestinians in limbo after they arrive, the Belgian authorities are increasing their stress levels.
In May, a Belgian judge considered appeals made by a number of Palestinians whose requests for refugee status had been refused. The judge ruled that the UN agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, was unable to provide adequate protection in Gaza because of its financial difficulties and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has not gone away. More than 340,000 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in the West Bank and Gaza to date.
Amid a public health emergency – exacerbated by Israel’s brutality – the humane response should be for Belgium to approve all refugee applications from Palestinians.
That would mean abandoning a policy introduced in 2018, under which Belgium has frequently rejected such applications.
More than 1,200 requests for refugee status by Palestinians in Belgium were turned down last year. That was approximately four times the number of requests for refugee status that were approved.
Hind Riad, a lawyer in Brussels, argued that the Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons “does not want to take positive decisions” when applications are made by Palestinians.
She accused the office of “doing everything to avoid” its job. According to Riad, that job “is giving protection to people who need it.”
The messages from Belgium’s various administrative branches are contradictory.
The Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons stated recently that the situation in Palestine is “highly evolving.” Things may improve in the near future, it has implied.
Sophie Wilmès, the Belgian foreign minister, struck a different tone last month when she referred to a “cycle of violence.” By doing so, she appeared to acknowledge that Palestine is a very dangerous place for Palestinians.
With such an acknowledgement, there can be no excuse for Belgium to slam the door in the faces of refugees.
David Cronin is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada. His books include Balfour’s Shadow: A Century of British Support for Zionism and Israel and Europe’s Alliance with Israel: Aiding the Occupation