News (World)

This gay Iranian poet fled persecution — only to find himself in Israel

TEL AVIV, Israel — Payam Feili fled his native Iran last year because of the persecution he faced over his sexuality.

Now, the gay poet has made a years-long dream come true — he is visiting Israel, Iran’s archenemy and a country known for its tolerance toward gays.

But the 30-year-old Feili stands out not only because of his arrival in a country so at odds with his own, but because of his professed adoration for the state some Iranian leaders have dubbed a cancer and have called to be wiped off the map.

“I still can’t believe I am here,” the soft-spoken Feili said in Farsi, speaking through his translator and the friend who brought him to Israel, Adi Liberman.

“All the stupid and ridiculous threats the regime issues against Israel have never influenced me and will never influence me,” he said.

Feili, who has written nine books, many of them openly discussing homosexuality, escaped to Turkey last year when the Iranian government’s threats against him and his family became unbearable.

He is in Israel to see his latest novella, “I Will Grow, I Will Bear Fruit … Figs,” staged as a play in Hebrew in a Tel Aviv theater. While his always supportive family remains in Iran, he said he hopes to stay in Israel permanently.

Feili has nurtured a fascination with Israel since he was a youngster, when he began watching films about the Holocaust and started learning about the Torah. He has a coin-sized Star of David tattoo on his neck.

“I grew closer and closer to Israel and I fell in love with it,” he said.

While Israel and Iran once had close economic and cultural ties, those links crumbled after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and relations since then have grown increasingly hostile. The two countries have no diplomatic ties and it is illegal for citizens of each country to visit the other, although Israel makes exceptions under certain circumstances.

Standing on the roof of Tel Aviv’s city hall with gleaming skyscrapers and the city’s signature Bauhaus buildings behind him, Feili brandished his Iranian passport, which declares “the holder of this passport is not entitled to travel to the occupied Palestine.”

Bringing him to Israel involved four months of jumping through bureaucratic hoops, dealing with various government ministries and security issues, Liberman explained.

She said he was finally granted a three-month visa, but that he has begun a process to remain in Israel permanently on humanitarian grounds.

Feili’s novella, which is being produced in Israel by Ido Dagan, portrays the unrequited love of two Iranian soldiers fighting in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Dagan said Feili is the first Iranian he has ever met.

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