This year’s Jerusalem Gay Pride parade and solidarity event appears to have taken place Thursday without the violence and counter demonstrations that have marred this now annual event. Although some 5,000 participants have been expected, the actual number may wind up to be more like 2,500; and even the police presence was much smaller than in previous years, when as many as 12,000 police were on hand.
This year’s march, which culminates June Gay Pride Month in Israel, is taking place from the Liberty Bell Garden, in the heart of city, and winding up in Independence Park (near the Knesset) where an evening rally will take place. The Holy City has been the scene of some unpleasant demonstrations in past years by the city’s ultra-orthodox Jewish community, with even some participants being stabbed during the 2005 parade. Jerusalem police had placed undercover police offices to mingle with the crowd in case any problems develop, according to police spokesperson Shmuel Ben-Ruby. A small demonstration of religious objectors to the “abomination” of the event was also said to be taking place, in Shabbat Square in the Meah Shearim neighborhood (an ultra-orthodox stronghold) and at Paris Square.
Jerusalem has been on edge recently since thousands of ultra-orthodox or haredi men rioted in protest to a parking lot being opened on the Sabbath to accommodate weekend visitors to the city. Further disturbances have been expected, should the city decide to make another attempt to re-open the lot, which is located beneath the Jerusalem Municipality building and is primarily intended for use by tourists who want to visit the Old City.
Although the parade and Gay Pride rally is intended by its organizers, Open House, Jerusalem’s gay and lesbian center, various religious groups, including Christians and Muslims, have been against such events being staged in Jerusalem. And a public opinion poll, conducted with Jerusalem residents, indicates that two thirds of those polled are against such events being staged. “Let them (the Gays) do what they want in Tel Aviv – but not here” one resident said.