Uri and Avi

Uri and Avi
Sitting in a tree

The US/UK children’s chant — meant to embarrass the kids named in it –realized in this photo of an Israeli Jew I’ve called Uri and a Palestinian Muslim I’ve called Avi (not sitting in a tree, but standing flagrantly in public):


The photo came to me from Michael Nieuwenhuizen, who found it (unsourced) on Facebook and was moved by it (as was I), as a depiction of men kissing openly and as a depiction of romantic attachment across the boundaries of race and religion — doubly transgressive, and for gay men like Mikkie and me, doubly satisfying.

As it turns out, Mikkie was hoping that it depicted a real-life kiss between a Muslim/Jew male couple  — composed by the photographer, of course, but nevertheless a record of the affection and passionate attachment of an actual same-sex, cross-religion couple on an Israeli street. I was dubious: posing the men in characteristic headgear of their religions looked too calculated, so I suspected it was a visual fable, a fiction of an imagined, achingly desired world.

Mikkie and I then went on searches for the source, which we quickly found. It’s a new photo, from this month, by Italian photographer Matteo Menicocci. The story, from TVM News (Television Malta, the national television station of Malta) on 1/12/19 , in “Photograph leads to major debate”:

Matteo Menicocci is an Italian photographer and an LGBTIQ activist.

The photographer decided to work on a photographic project with the intention of provoking and at the same time raising awareness on the already existing gap between different beliefs and the dangerous sentiment of homophobia.

Menicocci got his inspiration after spending a holiday in Tel Aviv with his partner Riccardo. He explained that during their holiday they ended up victims of homophobia and were insulted on several occasions. Menicocci felt the need to publish a photo which promotes love and peace between sexes and religions. In the photograph Menicocci is seen wearing traditional Palestinian garb, whilst his partner Riccardo is wearing a Yarmulke, a Jewish symbol, and they are kissing each other.

Mikkie was gravely disappointed. The photo doesn’t depict a moment of triumph for proud public display of man-on-man affection, but is instead an imagining of a better world that might some day come to be, a Peaceable Kingdom where boundaries of race, religion, class, and so on cease to be significant, where the Jewish lion can lie down in love with the Palestinian lamb.

Sim Aberson has suggested to me another work of visual fiction, one that shows a version of life for actual gay Israeli Jews coupled with Palestinian men, rather than spinning a utopian fantasy for such couples: the film Out in the Dark. From Wikipedia:


Out in the Dark (Hebrew: עלטה‎) is a 2012 Israeli romantic drama film which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2012 and in Israel in the Haifa International Film Festival in October 2012. It is the directorial debut of Michael Mayer (מיכאל מאיר).

The film tells the story of the relationship between Roy, an Israeli lawyer, and Nimer, a Palestinian psychology student. The film was released commercially in Israel on 28 February 2013.

The relationship has to be kept in the dark, in the closet.

Man-on-man affection in public. Mouth to mouth kisses, holding hands, cuddling and snuggling, and so on. In general, these actions are highly stigmatized, likely to arouse hostility, to elicit sharp comments — even vicious physical attacks — and (if continued) to result in expulsion from public places. There are safe spaces (gay clubs, places in gayborhoods, and the like), but in most places most of the time you have to be vigilant.

The hostility is usually even greater when a couple visibly cross significant social boundaries — in race or religion, in particular.

Man-on-man kisses are especially likely to trigger hostility of various sorts. Thanks to Dennis Lewis for this story from tv channel 4 in Jacksonville FL: “Sailor’s same-sex kiss prompts cheers, jeers: Mayport spokesman says Navy has always been gender neutral” by Vic Micolucci on 12/27/18:


Jacksonville, Fla. – A couple married for a year embraced and kissed Friday for the first time in months after a long Navy deployment as a crowd at Naval Station Mayport cheered and cameras recorded the moment.

The ceremonial first kiss is a part of every naval homecoming, but because the one as the USS The Sullivans returned from the Middle East with 300 sailors aboard was a same-sex couple, so this one got a lot of attention and significant backlash.

The first kiss is decided by lottery. Sailors’ spouses donate to a good cause to enter a raffle.

Kenneth Woodington won, and when his husband, sailor Bryan Woodington walked off the gangway, they locked lips for the first time in seven months…

“I was excited and I could not wait for it to happen,” Bryan said. “I knew I was going to dip him.”

“When he got off the ship, I lost all control, I just dropped everything and I just ran,” Kenneth said.

While the kiss was greeted by cheers at the base, News4Jax got jeers. Viewers bombarded the station with phone calls and emails objecting to the decision to show the kiss.

– How sad that your station has dropped to such a low as to show a gay couple kissing on your newscast.”

– I’ll never watch your news again!!!! So long, News4Jax.”

– I thought this was a ‘family friendly’ news channel.”

The couple is aware of the negative comments. Internet users posted them on Naval Station Mayport’s page, as well.

“It didn’t really bother me,” Kenneth said. “Honestly, I’m the type of person who doesn’t really care that much about what people say.”

“My grandmother always taught me, she said, ‘You know some people have a different life and this is how they are and you just have to treat them as such, and treat them with kindness and respect,'”  Bryan said.

These newlyweds said they’ve received more positive feedback than negative and the Navy has been nothing but kind and accepting. Both said this can be a teaching moment, that it’s 2018 and they feel that love is.”

“I wanted to give him nothing but love and care and understanding right out the gate, so I think we just fell for each other really hard and we both knew what we really wanted,”

Bill Austin, spokesman for Naval Station Mayport, said a same-sex first kiss has happened before and it is not an issue for the Navy. He said the seagoing branch of the armed forces has always been gender neutral and on the forefront of progress.

(This story doesn’t mention the crossing of the race boundary in #3.)

Not in front of the children — because man-on-man kisses are sex acts, appropriate only in private (if at all), while man-on-woman kisses are displays of affection, entirely permissible (even cute) in public.

Since man-on-man kisses are sex acts, they set off a chain of metonymic associations that zips right to images of anal intercourse between men, which is of course disgusting. (Men holding hands will do it too. For some people, just displaying a Pride flag is enough.)

Many straight men react to images of men kissing with the same sort of disgust that images of maggots evoke.

And of course fundangelical Xtians view loving relationships between men as a direct affront to their deity.

And on and on.

The dream of liberté, égalité, fraternité. As represented in the fiction of #1 and advertised in the performance in #3. A time of peace and brotherhood. From Wikipedia:

In Abrahamic religions, the Messianic Age is the future period of time on Earth in which the messiah will reign and bring universal peace and brotherhood, without any evil. Many believe that there will be such an age; some refer to it as the consummate “kingdom of God” or the “world to come”.

According to Jewish tradition, the Messianic Era will be one of global peace and harmony, an era free of strife and hardship, and one conducive to the furtherment of the knowledge of the Creator. The theme of the Messiah ushering in an era of global peace is encapsulated in two of the most famous scriptural passages from the Book of Isaiah:

Isaiah 2:4 (KJV): 4And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Isaiah 11:6-7 (KJV): 6The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. 7And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

These images of peace and love in a world in which impediments to unity, artificial boundaries, just vanish were profoundly appealing to the Quaker artist Edward Hicks, who returned again and again to the dream world of the Peaceable Kingdom. From the Worcester (MA) Art Museum site:

(#4) Edward Hicks (American, 1780-1849), The Peaceable Kingdom (about 1833), oil on canvas

Trained as a sign, coach, and ornamental painter, Hicks painted over a hundred versions of his now-famous Peaceable Kingdom between 1820 and his death. His artistic endeavors provided modest support for his activities as a Quaker preacher in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The theme of this painting, drawn from chapter 11 of Isaiah, was undoubtedly attractive to Hicks and fellow Quakers not only for its appealing imagery but also for its message of peace … Into many versions, including the Worcester painting, Hicks incorporated a vignette of William Penn’s treaty with the Indians, an image he adapted from a popular painting by Benjamin West. Hicks may have viewed parallels in the two parts of the composition, inasmuch as Penn, who had introduced Quakerism into Pennsylvania, had also brought about a measure of the peaceable kingdom on earth.

In #4, the Englishman and the Indian are portrayed as free and equal, brothers in Hicks’s fancied peaceable kingdom. So in #1, the Israeli and the Palestinian, in Menicocci’s fiction of a better world.

2 Responses to “Uri and Avi”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    On the movie OUT IN THE DARK, this favorable review by the chronicler of queer film Ken Rudolph:

  2. [BLOG] Some Saturday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Zwicky looks at the origins of Uri and Avi, a photo of apparently showing two men, one Palestinian and one […]

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