Thousands of people took part in Jerusalem’s annual Gay Pride parade under heavy police guard on Thursday, mindful of a fatal 2015 attack on marchers in the largely conservative city.
“We shall not allow any disturbance to public order and we shall ensure the safety of the march and its participants,” a police statement said.
It said that about 10,000 people arrived for the start of the parade, setting off from a downtown Jerusalem park to march through nearby streets.
Speaking to AFP at the starting point, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, of the centrist Zionist Union alliance, said: “I am here to send a message to the government that the state of Israel must be a state with values such as equality and freedom.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads what is seen as the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, which includes an ultra-Orthodox party that condemns homosexuality.
Across the road a few dozen demonstrators gathered to protest against the parade and raised a banner in Hebrew reading: “No entry for this abomination to the Holy City.”
Police kept them away from the parade-goers and said no violent incidents were reported.
“Weapons of all kinds, drones and all types of aircraft” were banned from the assembly point and from the parade route, police said.
Officers questioned 41 people suspected of intending public disorder and arrested one person who was taken to a police station for further investigation.
The city centre was closed to traffic and police said participants were subjected to security checks before being allowed to join the rally.
– ‘Pride and Tolerance’ –
Emily Matheys, a 21-year-old from the northern city of Haifa, said she joined the parade to march for “equality in all walks of life”.
“Mainly for me, as a transsexual woman, it comes to the most basic things like walking in the street without fearing for my life,” she told AFP.
In the 2015 attack, a 16-year-old girl was stabbed to death and five other people were wounded.
The attacker was Yishai Shlissel, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, who is now serving a life sentence.
Shlissel had spent 10 years in jail after a similar attack on the 2005 Jerusalem Gay Pride march, and had been released just three weeks before the event, leading to criticism of the police.
The Jerusalem parade has taken on added significance since then, with many from outside the gay community joining the march in solidarity and to call for tolerance.
Israel has the most open attitude to homosexuality in the Middle East, with a large and influential gay community.
But conservative Jerusalem, which is sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, is far less gay-friendly than liberal Tel Aviv.
Bisexual Jerusalem resident Doron Mosenzon, a participant in the parade, said sexual orientation was not subject to religious or cultural boundaries.
“The gay community is everywhere in all populations — religious, secular, Jews, Arabs, Christians — we are part of everyone and we’ve been here forever, and we will continue to be here and fight for our place here,” he said.
This year’s parade, the 17th annual Jerusalem march, is being held under the banner of “Pride and Tolerance”.
Organisers had said they expected a high turnout due to what they say is a groundswell of public sympathy for gay rights in the wake of a recent law denying surrogacy rights to same-sex couples.
On July 22 sympathisers around the country staged work stoppages and an estimated 60,000 people attended a solidarity rally in Tel Aviv.
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