The exiled Iranian poet, Payam Feili, arrived in Israel on Sunday to launch the Hebrew version of his new book “Three Reasons” and to attend the premier of an Israeli-produced adaptation of the work.
In an interview with Channel 10 Monday, Feili, who sports a tattoo of a Star of David on his neck, said he has an inexplicable attraction to Israel.
“For me, this is the best place on Earth and the most beautiful,” he said.
“The Iranian people do not hate Israel just like the Israeli people do not hate Iran,” he went on.
Feili was granted an entry visa into Israel by Interior Minister Silvan Shalom last week.
The openly gay 30-year-old has been living in Turkey for over a year, having been forced into exile from Iran after numerous arrests, threats, censorship and run-ins with the Iran’s conservative Revolutionary Guards.
Feili’s final arrest before his departure from Iran consisted of him being forced to sit in a shipping container for 44 days, according to the PEN American Center, a group working to advance free expression and defend writers.
The poet has been known for his support of Israel’s people and society, including the country’s relative openness to homosexuality in a region where gays are frequently persecuted.
This year, Feili published a Hebrew translation of his book, “I Will Grow and Bear Fruit … Figs,” in the work’s first non-Persian release.
The novella is a story of forbidden love between friends and deals with issues of creative freedom on the backdrop of the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. The opening lines of the story read: “I am 21 years old. I am gay. I love the afternoon sun.”
Unsurprisingly, the Islamic Republic’s authorities gave Feili trouble with his writing and his expressions of admiration for Israel, and blacklisted his works. A censored version of his first book, “The Sun’s Platform,” was published in Iran when Feili was 19. Since then, no other work of his was approved by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Iran’s official cultural and censorship body.
In an interview in July with the Israeli NRG website, Feili told of his troubles with Iranian authorities and his desire to visit Israel. Following the report, Culture Minister Miri Regev wrote a personal letter to Shalom, asking him to provide Feili with a tourist visa, despite him being from an enemy state.
Regev wrote in her letter that Payam had fled Iran due to anti-gay persecution and accusations of harming religion and supporting Israel. “In all of his work, and especially in his last book, ‘I Will Grow and Bear Fruit … Figs,'” Regev wrote, “there are elements mixed in of Jewish symbols, and for this he was persecuted by the regime.”
On October 10, Feili published a video in Hebrew on his YouTube channel, in which he asked Israelis to support him in his visit to Israel.
“Shalom,” Feili’s voice is heard in the video. “As you must have heard, I should soon be coming to Israel. I invite all of you to support my campaign of coming to Israel. I can’t wait!”
“Three Reasons” premiered on November 29 at Tel Aviv’s Tzavta theater. It is a mixed dramatic, musical and dance performance based on the works of a number of modern and historic LGBT poets, along with LGBT interpretations of writers from outside of the community.
The array of poets include Israeli, Persian, American and ancient Greek writers.