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Shock, questions after horrific murder of gay Palestinian

JERUSALEM — The severed head and decapitated torso of a 25-year-old Palestinian was discovered on the side of a road in the occupied West Bank, police said Friday, confirming gruesome details of a murder that shocked Palestinian society .

But stories that the victim, Ahmad Abu Murkhiyeh, was a gay man who feared persecution for his sexuality and had sought asylum in Israel two years ago, turned this terrible crime into a socially and politically explosive affair. .

It is unclear how Abu Murkhiyeh ended up in Hebron, the conservative West Bank town he allegedly fled. Palestinian police officials told The Associated Press on Friday that Abu Murkhiyeh’s head and torso were found near his family’s home.

Colonel Loay Irzekat, a police spokesman, said authorities arrested a Palestinian acquaintance of Abu Murkhiyeh as a suspect in the murder, but declined to assign a motive or give details of their relationship. awaiting investigation.

Palestinian social media has been gripped by the gruesome but silent murder on the issue of Abu Murkhiyeh’s sexuality. Homosexuality remains deeply taboo in the Palestinian territories, where traditional norms play a prominent role in social and political life.

Still, there was plenty of outrage across the West Bank. Graphic images taken by young Palestinians who stumbled upon the dismembered body of Abu Murkhiyeh on a hillside spread across WhatsApp groups, causing shock and horror, before being taken down.

“It’s a very ugly crime,” an older relative, also named Ahmad Abu Murkhiyeh, told Palestinian radio station Al Karama. “Such a thing should not be discussed.”

Abu Murkhiyeh’s family issued a statement of mourning, offering blessings and asking for confidentiality after “this heinous and unprecedented crime that shook the homeland”.

The family claimed that Abu Murkhiyeh lived and worked between Hebron and neighboring Jordan, where his late father was from.

As news of Abu Murkhiyeh’s death spread, a radically different version of events emerged from Israel. LGBTQ organizations and emergency shelters helping gay asylum seekers said they knew he was gay and desperate to flee the Palestinian territories, where he was a target.

Rita Petrenko, founder of Al Bait Al Mokhtalef, an Israeli gay rights organization that caters to the Arab community, said the fear of Abu Murkhiyeh was distinct when they met in 2020.

“He told me that people not only from his family but also from the village wanted to kill him,” she said, adding that he had fled to Israel when news of his sexual orientation broke. widespread in Hebron two years ago. “He was afraid of his brothers, his uncles, his cousins.”

Abu Murkhiyeh bounced from shelter to shelter and occasionally worked in restaurants in Tel Aviv, Petrenko said, as she helped him apply for resettlement to Canada.

He had no prospects in Israel. Under temporary status, he was banned from working until last July, when Israel began granting work permits to Palestinians who sought refuge from violence and persecution because of their sexual orientation. Petrenko said.

“The situation was horrible for all of them,” said Ibtisam Mara’ana-Menuhin, an Arab member of Israel’s Knesset who petitioned the Supreme Court to grant work visas to gay Palestinian asylum seekers.

Israel frequently promotes its tolerance on issues of sexual orientation, despite the rejection of homosexuality in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. But Tel Aviv prides itself on its reputation as a destination of choice for gay and lesbian travellers.

Critics accuse Israel of ‘pink washing’, saying it uses such tolerance as a way to distract from its indefinite occupation of the West Bank, now in its 56th year, and its tough policy towards the Palestinians.

Just hours before Abu Murkhiyeh was killed on Wednesday, he spoke to volunteers at his shelter in Tel Aviv for regular check-in, Petrenko said. Nothing was right. The following day, the story of his beheading dominated the media.

From Tel-Aviv, it is a surge of anguish.

“We are heartbroken…we will always remember you, Isu,” said Elem, a group that helped Abu Murkhiyeh, addressing him by a nickname. “We will never stop fighting so that others like you can live freely like any other human being.”

At the shelter where he most recently stayed, staff lit a candle for Abu Murkhiyeh during a solemn vigil on Friday.

Petrenko said she had no idea how he ended up in Hebron. “He never felt safe,” she said.

Gay Palestinians tend to be cautious lest they attract unwanted attention from their socially conservative community and react from the authorities. In 2019, Palestinian Authority police banned a gay and transgender rights group from holding events in the West Bank and threatened to arrest participants.

Gay people within Israel’s Arab minority have also faced violence and ostracism in their communities.

West Bank Palestinians like Abu Murkhiyeh have long since entered Israel to live openly. There are nearly 100 of these Palestinians living in asylum, said Mara’ana-Menuhin, the lawmaker, but the number is likely much higher.

“It’s not that these people even come out of the closet. They are found and hunted,” said Hila Peer of Aguda, an Israeli LGBTQ rights organization. “Ahmad’s case is just another example of the seriousness of the situation and its serious danger.”

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