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October 14, 2022 12:47 pm

BBC Takes Aim at Israel in Report on Beheading of Gay Palestinian Man in Hebron

avatar by Rachel O'Donoghue


A member of the Palestinian Authority (PA)  security forces gestures as he speaks with a truck occupant at a checkpoint after PA President Mahmoud Abbas extended a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus crisis, in the West Bank city of Hebron, May 5, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Mussa Qawasma.

The horrific killing of Ahmad Abu Murkhiyeh, a 25-year-old gay Palestinian, in the West Bank town of Hebron last week was rightly met with shock and revulsion.

Abu Murkhiyeh — who lived in Tel Aviv after he sought asylum in Israel two years ago — is believed to have been kidnapped before being beheaded. His decapitated torso was dumped on the side of the road, and footage of his dismembered corpse was later circulated on social media.

Rita Petrenko, the founder of the Israeli LGBT support group Al Bait Al Mokhtalef, which caters primarily to gay Arabs, claimed Abu Murkhiyeh fled his home in Hebron in 2020 after receiving death threats from both within his own family and the local community. “He was scared of his brothers, his uncles, his cousins,” she said.

A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority (PA) police described the incident as bearing the hallmarks of a “new kind of crime in Palestine (sic)” and confirmed a suspect had been arrested.

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In its coverage of the killing, however, the BBC failed to report the alleged threats from Abu Murkhiyeh’s family members that preceded his murder, instead preferring to rely on his family’s dismissal of “rumors” regarding his sexuality.

Even more egregious, though, is the BBC’s tacit suggestion that the death of the young Palestinian is somehow connected to homophobic attitudes among Israeli Jews:

Homosexuality is rejected within the most socially and religiously conservative parts of both Palestinian and Israeli societies but gay people in Israel can freely lead their lives. The reports suggest he had fled his home on a humanitarian permit while hoping to go to Canada.

While the BBC correctly observes that gay individuals in Israel can “freely lead their lives,” it is a mystery why the outlet thought there was some kind of editorial justification for connecting “religiously conservative” attitudes in the Jewish state and Abu Murkhiyeh’s death.

Indeed, as Bret Stephens pointed out in a stinging New York Times editorial, the claim from Palestinians that the crime was unique in Palestinian society is simply not true.

The fact is, violence and discrimination against members of the LGBT community by the Palestinian authorities are commonplace, and human rights charities have highlighted numerous cases of gay people being harassed, abused, and detained by PA security officers.

In 2019, for example, activists in the Palestinian LGBT rights group al-Qaws were threatened with arrest by PA police officers, who warned against holding any local activities on the grounds that they were against the “values of Palestinian society.”

Israel, on the other hand, is a beacon of tolerance in a region that is characterized by repressive anti-gay laws, and hosts numerous LGBT Pride events every summer, including in Tel Aviv, which is the largest such event in continental Asia.

Palestinian news reports and commentators on social media have also glossed over the role that Abu Murkhiyeh’s sexuality likely played in motivating his killer.

The BBC’s coverage of Abu Murkhiyeh’s death is part of a pattern of media outlets and commentators ignoring less savory aspects of Palestinian society — a tendency toward “whitewashing” — said Stephens in his New York Times piece:

In recent years, it’s become the fashion of many of Israel’s vehement critics to accuse Israel’s supporters of ‘pinkwashing’ — that is, of using the Jewish state’s pathbreaking record of promoting and protecting gay rights over many years as a cloak to obscure its various purported sins.

But there’s another word to describe the reluctance, bordering on willful blindness, of too many advocates of Palestinian statehood to call attention to the prejudice and brutality that confront gay Palestinians. It’s called whitewashing. Whitewashing is also the word that goes for the broad indifference in pro-Palestinian circles to Hamas’s tyrannical rule in Gaza, or to the Palestinian Authority’s murder of its domestic political critics like Nizar Banat, or to the elimination of any semblance of democracy under the petty despotism of President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.

Hear, hear.

The murder of Abu Murkhiyeh should have seen the BBC draw attention to the reality of life for LGBT individuals and other minorities under the repressive Palestinian regime.

Instead, the BBC used his death as a chance to subtly take aim at the Jewish state.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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