JERUSALEM - Arab and Palestinian writers and intellectuals on Monday launched a new online magazine in Israel that aims to challenge taboos, including by featuring articles by gays and lesbians.
"Our site will be like a cultural oasis to which a person can escape to read a short story or watch a cultural event via YouTube," said Alaa Hlehel, founder and editor of Qadita.net and an Arab citizen of Israel.
The site is named for his ancestral village, which was destroyed during the 1948 war that attended the creation of the Jewish state, but its target is the limits of free speech in Arab and Islamic societies.
"Rebellious or 'non-conservative' writing should not fall victim to erasure just because its dissemination angers some people or offends 'sensitivities,'" the website's founding statement says.
"We believe the margin of freedom in Arabic-language publishing is under siege, because of political and social tensions and various groups."
The site will publish contributions from a wide range of Arab and Palestinian writers and, in an historic first, will have a special section devoted to gay and lesbian writers, most of whom will write anonymously.
Homosexuality is highly frowned upon in Arab and Islamic society and is criminalised in many countries in the region.
"We are doing this to allow gays to speak out, to leave their ghetto and to become a natural part of Palestinian and Arab culture," Hlehel said.
When asked if he feared attacks by religious or extremist groups, Hlehel insisted that the quality of the writing would speak for itself.
"It will be easy to attack us over the issue of gays, but because of this we will ensure that all our writing is of the highest quality," he said.
Israel's Arab citizens make up around 20 percent of the population. They comprise the Palestinians who remained in the Jewish state after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that attended its creation and their descendants.