>All news // Social & Organizational Transformation: A Queer Organizing Milestone in Palestine

Social & Organizational Transformation: A Queer Organizing Milestone in Palestine

To read alQaws' full annual report for 2020, click here. You can find the Arabic version here.

At the end of this year, Haneen Maikey, who has led alQaws for two decades as our director-in-office, will end her term and welcome Haneen Sader as the organization’s new director. Twenty years ago, Haneen Maikey co-founded alQaws alongside a committed group of activists and friends. Since then, she has directed the movement throughout its evolution, as alQaws grew from a small community initiative into a well-established and highly reputable civil society organization in Palestine. 

AlQaws’ leadership has always relied on collective efforts and community work, as well as the steadfast support of activists, friends, allies, and professionals who believe in our vision and progress. These efforts and support networks require exceptional direction and management in order to steer the organization forward. In her two decades at the helm of alQaws, Haneen Maikey provided the leadership, commitment, and devotion that brought our organization to the place it is today. 

After conducting an extensive search to find the person best suited for the role, we are extremely proud to announce that alQaws will proceed to grow and progress under the direction of activist Haneen Sader. 

In the past five years, Haneen Sader has been an integral part of several organizational frameworks in alQaws, as an activist in our national leadership network, a board member for four consecutive years, and a trainer for our professional-oriental workshops that engage various social actors.

For alQaws, this transition process is not reducible to a simple change of directors. Instead, it signals a deeper transformation within our leadership structure and reflects the journey we have experienced as a dynamic collective. In recent years, our organization has entered new realms of public consciousness, whether by amassing thousands of new followers and beneficiaries through online and offline platforms, or by expanding our base of grassroots activists and partner networks. This visibility created a significant impact within Palestinian society and beyond, yet these developments did not occur by coincidence--they were instead the outcome of a planned, collective process to integrate new individuals into positions of leadership within our networks, communities, and initiatives. 

The timing and execution of this process were not random, nor was it a reaction to any specific crisis. AlQaws’ 2018-2021 Strategic Plan initially outlined the leadership transition as a deliberate political objective. The consequent structural changes [over the past three years] included developing the capacities of alQaws’ staff, expanding the responsibilities of the board, and incorporating the national leadership and activist bases into the process of charting out the future of our organization. 

Throughout this period, we incorporated and engaged alQaws’ various communities and structures to discuss the internal and external changes we were experiencing, both as an organization and as a movement. In the past twelve months, alQaws’ staff and board worked to outline the main organizational questions and challenges that arose from the transition process. They sought to identify the needs of alQaws’ different communities, in order to effectively facilitate the exchange of knowledge and the division of organizational responsibilities. 

Challenges of the Leadership Transition Process

The changes we underwent during the leadership transition process—and the changes that await us in the future—are a testament to alQaws’ dynamic nature as an organization. Our present growth is a result of meaningful, value-oriented engagement with the various questions and challenges that arose during the transition. 

During this process, a key question arose: how can we share the knowledge and experience that alQaws has accumulated throughout two decades of queer organizing in Palestine? We sought to answer this question by working to distribute our knowledge horizontally and make it accessible to everyone in alQaws. This approach allows us to further develop the leadership roles inside our community and respond to the new responsibilities that are emerging as a result. In addition to sharing this political knowledge, alQaws also sought to teach about the history of the movement and the development of queer politics in Palestine, including the evolution of our organizing, work tactics, and ethics.

We began to address the challenge of knowledge-sharing last year by establishing reflection and discussion spaces within alQaws’ leadership groups. These spaces were dedicated to the question of how to center alQaws’ values and politics in our everyday organizing, and how these political values are in turn reflected in our strategies. We hosted similar knowledge exchange initiatives open to the broader activist community, such as training programs that provided a thorough introduction to queer and feminist thought. Our five-week Fourth Academic School, titled “From Pain to Hope: On Confronting the System,'' provided an additional opportunity to showcase alQaws’ political and organizing legacy within a theoretical framework, in collaboration with more than fifty activists and scholars who took part in the program. To build on these discussions, and to apply the knowledge generated in the course of the academic schools to our organizing practice, we will also host a national Queer School in 2021 for alQaws’ national leadership across Palestine.

In the coming year, our commitment to knowledge-sharing will take the form of a significant and unprecedented archival project to document the history of alQaws and the history of the Palestinian Queer Movement more generally. This archival project, to be launched in 2022, will lay a foundation stone in the effort to preserve our history. It will serve as a chronicle of our movement, making it available and accessible to future generations. 

An undertaking of this scale is accompanied—and will continue to be accompanied—by a wide range of emotions. These feelings are a natural and necessary aspect of our work in general, and of the leadership transition in particular. Our values and organizational culture emphasize the central role of emotional health in any movement or community-building process. Paying special attention to such emotions and their impact on our work is essential to our future growth and sustainability as an organization.

We believe that deep engagement with emotions, combined with a commitment to nurturing healthy relationships within alQaws, is the main fuel of our work. This attentiveness strengthens our capacity to engage with current and upcoming periods of change. We are well aware that the departure of influential and significant leaders brings about a great deal of confusion and mixed feelings, a phenomenon common to political organizations and movements. These emotions also stem from the transformation of power dynamics and relationships within the political collective. To properly address these feelings, we intend to continue discussing and analyzing these matters collectively, in order to surpass miscommunication, grow as individuals, and evolve as a movement. 

During the last month of the year, we arranged several meetups for all alQaws organizational structures—including our national leadership, board, and staff, in addition to our allies—in order to reflect upon and deal with the feelings that have naturally accompanied a transition such as this. These meetups were filled with emotional reflections on the huge impact that our previous director, Haneen Maikey, had on alQaws and its relationship with our allies and partner organizations. But more than anything, these conversations captured a sense of enthusiasm and faith in moving forward with the new leadership.

During this period of significant change, we prioritized cautious and wise strategizing about alQaws’ external work. We strove to build capacity within our various existing structures, while also maintaining a dynamic organizational discussion about the transition. Throughout this process, we worked to ensure that our internal preoccupations did not affect our most fundamental priorities: retaining our presence and influence within society and maintaining a line of communication with our communities.   

Leadership Transition in Times of Social Change

Our current organizational transformation is unfolding in tandem with major social changes regarding issues of sexual and gender diversity in Palestine. Queer issues in Palestine have entered the realm of public discussion on several occasions in recent years, signaling an end to widespread denial and taboo around such issues. AlQaws has been a leading force behind these social changes and shifts, which impacted both our role as an agent of societal transformation, as well as the expectations placed on us by our own community and those outside it.

One of the most significant expressions of the changes unfolding in Palestinian society was the “Rallying Cry For Queer Liberation” that alQaws organized in July of this year. The rally marked the second public event where queer Palestinians reclaimed the streets, and followed in the footsteps of the previous demonstration, “Palestinian Voices Condemn Violence Against LGBTQ people,” that took place during the summer of 2019 in response to a violent event that rippled through the Palestinian community. One of the most remarkable aspects of the “Rallying Cry For Queer Liberation” was the strong, visible presence of queer Palestinians, which reflects a broader trend of increasing queer visibility and public reckonings with societal violence.

Direct challenges to the status quo, which have come to characterize alQaws’ strategies and tactics, emerged alongside growing societal discussions about issues of sexual and gender diversity. These discussions, which have increasingly entered mainstream outlets and public forums, are a reaction to the increased visibility of LGBT and queer Palestinians. The veil of silence has been lifted, and it is no longer possible for the broader society to deny our existence or ignore the issues that affect our lives. This increased visibility has been accompanied by an uptick in reactionary violence against us, yet it also provides an opportunity for a deeper and more constructive discussion about LGBT and queer issues. This discussion focuses on the role our society can play in combating violence and emphasizes the collective responsibility to publicly confront injustice and social exclusion.

The changes within our organization are unfolding in parallel with the broader societal shifts we are now witnessing. This is not a coincidence. Instead, it reflects the dialectical relationship between our work’s impact and the positive transformation of social discussions about gender and sexual diversity.

The Pandemic & Its Role in Changing Our Lives

The Covid-19 pandemic ushered in a period of significant upheaval in our lives and in our organizing. The adverse effects of the pandemic, ranging from illness and job loss to isolation and precarious living conditions, led to a decline in safety and security among LGBT and queer Palestinians. These circumstances pushed us further to the margins and forced us to conceive of new forms of communication and solidarity in the wake of the sudden loss of our safe community spaces. This pandemic has not only shed light on the vulnerability of our communities—it has further intensified the impact of the violence we face as LGBT and queer people in Palestine, struggling to navigate numerous interlinked oppressions.

Feelings of confusion and isolation have descended on many of us in the course of this global disruption. Many of us were forced to confront feelings of loneliness and depression in the solitude of quarantine. Many others were faced with a loss of independence, forced to rely upon repressive nuclear families and other social institutions that perpetuate violence against us. As a collective, we also felt the acute loss of our in-person community spaces where we were able to connect and express ourselves. 

AlQaws successfully responded to this new reality by extending our availability and accessibility to our communities in quarantine. We navigated our state of emergency by adjusting our strategies and work methods to meet the pressing needs of our community members. We launched new programs and maintained existing ones, all of which took place over online platforms in order to sustain connectivity within our communities. We converted the professional training program for our alKhat support hotline into online sessions, and our Haifa youth group made a similar transition to remote meetings. We hosted online workshops that focused on the challenges faced by queer communities during the pandemic and conducted a regional webinar on the same topic.

Evolving Responses to Change

In the upcoming year (2021), we will proceed with the leadership transition process and enter a phase of deep strategic planning for the next three years (2022-2024). This process will incorporate every organizational structure within alQaws, from the board and staff to the national and local leadership. This period will also provide an opportunity to deepen our dialogue with various organizational partners and movements. We will engage in an extensive evaluation of our assumptions and strategies, and provide space to reflect on current structures, programming, and roles.

In parallel with the upcoming year’s strategic planning process, alQaws will run various capacity-building programs to meet the needs of the staff, the board of directors, and the national leadership in the course of the organizational transition. These capacity-building spaces will help alQaws reestablish the responsibilities and the roles of each structure, develop their relations to one another, and determine how they intersect. 

As we initiate these extensive internal processes, we will not allow our societal visibility and organizing to regress. We are committed to maintaining a vibrant and influential movement that can act as a driving force of meaningful change within our communities and society. 

Last, But Not Least…

In the last twenty years, alQaws has established itself as a profoundly influential social change actor and civil society movement, both in Palestine and beyond. We have consciously planned and established a strong grassroots infrastructure for queer organizing, and we see the fruits of our labor in our daily practice. These achievements have been brought to fruition through the efforts of our activists, who realized countless organizational, structural, and socio-political processes. We are filled with hope and are excited to embark on this new journey towards radical change and collective liberation. 

To read the full report, click the image below