Last updated: June 25, 2004

SF Grand Marshal to Miss Pride to Fight Israeli Apartheid wall

June 25, 2004 -Kate Raphael

Dear Teddy, Darren, Joey, members of the Parade Committee and my
beloved SF queer community:

It is with deep regret that I must inform you that I cannot return to
San Francisco to be a Grand Marshal in this year's parade. I apologize
for the late notice, but until yesterday, I still hoped to make it.

I am very cognizant of the honor, largely undeserved, that you gave me
by choosing me as a Community Grand Marshal. I am also aware that by
doing so, you were stating, as I do, that for queers to be free, we
must free the world from the oppression of militarism, occupation and
corporate domination. I was really looking forward to celebrating LGBT
Freedom Day at home with all of you. However, a number of events in
the last weeks have caused me to make the difficult decision to remain
in the Middle East.

Just over two weeks ago, Israeli bulldozers arrived in the area of the
Occupied West Bank in which I have been working for much of the last
year, and began uprooting trees and clearing land for the construction
of the Apartheid Wall. We have been dreading and preparing for this
crisis for the last year, but we were not expecting it to happen so
soon, for the destruction to be accomplished so swiftly, or for the
Israeli army's response to the villagers' resistance to be so violent.
Over the last two weeks, I have seen over 300 people injured by tear
gas, concussion grenades and rubber coated steel bullets. I have
witnessed the army shooting tear gas at ambulances and rescue workers
on numerous
occasions.

I have watched elderly people and young children gassed as they sat
calmly
in front of the bulldozers. I filmed an Israeli soldier as he aimed a
rifle loaded with live bullets at teenage boys armed with stones, and
yelled to them in Hebrew, "Atah tamut hayom," "You are going to die
today." And I have seen thousands of olive trees cut down or uprooted,
their pillaged tops heavy with unripe olives which would have become
oil, the lifeblood of rural Palestinian society.

Amidst all of this turmoil in the Middle Eastern communities I know
best, I have had little time to even read about the "transition of
power" in Iraq. But when I do, I see that "Operation Iraqi Freedom"
has brought the Iraqis a brand of "freedom" which looks very much like
what I have just described. The New York Times reported yesterday
that, "Among the emergency rule provisions being considered [by the new
Iraqi government] are a curfew, a ban on public demonstrations,
checkpoints to control public movement and changes to search and
seizure laws, two cabinet members said in separate interviews on Sunday
evening." Associated Press reports that an opinion poll, "commissioned
by the Coalition Provisional Authority last month but not released to
the American public, found "more than half [of Iraqis] believe all
Americans behave like those portrayed in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse
photos."

My concern for these severe human rights abuses, and my commitment to
opposing them, caused you all to choose me as a Grand Marshal. In the
face of escalating abuses, I cannot justify spending over $1,000 to
return to San Francisco to celebrate Pride. I cannot celebrate the
explosion of gay weddings while our government massacres Iraqis at a
wedding party. I cannot stand next to fellow Grand Marshals Gavin
Newsom, who supports queers (supposedly) as long as they are not
homeless, and Bruce Vilanch, who volunteers with the Anti-Defamation
League, an organization which aggressively persecutes anyone,
especially Arabs, who criticizes Israeli policies.

Most importantly, I feel I cannot jeopardize my opportunity to continue
doing this work, by leaving Israel/Palestine at this time. A large
number of activists have recently been denied entry to the country by
Israel, including my friend Brooke, who was coming to join an Arabic
study program. I fear that if I leave the country right now, I might
not be allowed to return, and I cannot take such a risk at this
critical time.

With the Israeli radical LGBT group Black Laundry (Kveesa Shchora), I
assert that we can take NO PRIDE IN OCCUPATION, whether we mean the
U.S. occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S.-funded Israeli
occupation of Palestine, or the police occupation of the Tenderloin and
Hunter's Point. I urge those who would have marched with me, to march
in my place, carrying reminders of what we need to change before we can
truly celebrate Pride and Freedom.

Instead of riding in the parade in San Francisco, I will stand with
Black Laundry at the parade in Tel Aviv, proud to be part of a strong
radical activist alliance that knows no borders. But I will terribly
miss being with you all, and on Sunday I will think of you and of the
Iraqi queers and Palestinian queers who depend on us to be Out 4
Justice.

Sincerely, queerly,

Kate Raphael
from the Occupied Palestinian Territories