By Daniel Estrin
At the Israeli army checkpoint, David barely slowed down. His pale skin, blue eyes and confident smile identified him as an Israeli. Even when Israeli soldiers signaled to him to stop or slow down, he just waved and drove past, spitting dust behind him.
Each time he did this, and it was often, he was thrilled and terrified. So was his Palestinian boyfriend, Eyad, who would sit in the back seat. It is hard to describe how dicey pulling this stunt off is in this part of the world. But for David and Eyad, sneaking Eyad from the West Bank to David’s apartment in Israel was worth the risk.
It is extremely rare for an Israeli to fall in love with a Palestinian. Gay love is an even trickier prospect.
There is, of course, the bitter conflict waging between the two peoples. Sleeping with the enemy is, in most circles, considered to be a betrayal to one’s family, identity and nation.
There are legal barriers. Israel bans Palestinians from joining their spouses in Israel, citing fears that Palestinians could carry out attacks if given entry to Israel.
There are physical hurdles. Security forces carefully police the frontier between Israel and the Palestinian territories. No Israeli is allowed to enter Palestinian-governed areas, and no Palestinian is allowed into Israeli areas, without special permits.
You don’t need a special permit, however, to enter a dating website.
In early 2012, a 29-year-old Israeli man from Jerusalem began chatting online with a 29-year-old Palestinian man in the West Bank. They lived just a few miles, and worlds away, from each other.
The Palestinian asked the Israeli what his name was. (Their real names are not revealed here, for their safety and privacy.) When the Israeli responded with a Hebrew name, the Palestinian thought it was a joke, a fake nickname.
“I was speaking to him in Arabic, and he saw my pictures, and I didn’t seem like an Arab,” David, the Israeli, said. “He thought I was fooling him. And eventually I told him I was Jewish. And he was shocked. And I asked if problem. And he said, ‘no, no.’”
Many Palestinian gay men do not reveal their real names to the Palestinian men they meet online. Strangers, even gay strangers, cannot be trusted to keep their sexuality a secret. Homosexuality is one of the most extreme taboos in Palestinian society.
David was not the first Israeli man Eyad chatted with online. But none of them with were willing to meet him, a Palestinian, in the West Bank. They thought it would be dangerous.
David agreed to meet him in a town in the West Bank, taking circuitous, Jewish settlement back roads to avoid Israeli military checkpoints.
“I still remember his face. How happy he was,” Eyad, the Palestinian, said of their first date. “I told him, you are in Jerusalem, and I am in the West Bank, and there is a wall between us…it’s not a good idea to draw expectations. Like, we cannot really go far with it.”
Then, as if defying gravity, they fell in love. To be a couple – this kind of couple, in this unforgiving place – required creating a life of fiction. David didn’t tell his parents for a very long time about his relationship with Eyad. And Eyad hid his own sexuality from his family, as well as the true nature of his relationship with David, who became a frequent and welcome visitor to his family’s village home.
“I really can’t tell what would happen if someone from Palestine knew that I am gay. People here in Palestine, they say that, oh, that guy was talking about this, he should be killed,” Eyad said. “I live in a big lie.”
When their fiction began to unravel, the two crossed many of their own personal boundaries, in a place where borders matter most.
Tune into their audio documentary to hear David and Eyad tell their story.