Jerusalem′s gay pride parade, one year after the deadly attack | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 21.07.2016
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Jerusalem's gay pride parade, one year after the deadly attack

Jerusalem has amped up security for its annual gay pride after an extremist killed an Israeli teenager and injured several others at last year's event. The LGBTQ community is still in shock, writes Tania Krämer.

For Noam Eyal, 31, it all happened very quickly when the attacker pulled a knife during last year's gay pride parade. "I didn't see him coming," he said about the man who stabbed 16-year old Shira Banki to death and injured six others. About 5000 people were marching in the streets for Jerusalem's Gay Pride last year, when the extremist ultra-orthodox man started his killing spree.

"It felt like somebody bumped into me, but actually he stabbed me in my right shoulder," Eyal said.

The young Israeli woman next to him - Banki - was severely injured and later died in hospital.

"We all didn't realize what was happening," he added.

The attacker, Yishai Shlissel, had already been in prison for an almost identical attack on the 2005 pride march. Just a few months after he was released from prison after serving his 10-year sentence, he went to attack people at the parade again.

Paramedics take care of a man who was stabbed (photo: picture alliance)

Jerusalem's gay community is still in shock over last year's brutal attack

For this year's parade, Eyal hopes that some 20,000 people will turn up to show support for the gay community. "That would [give me] closure," he said with a calm voice, sitting in a coffee shop in Jerusalem. "That is the only thing that can really deter future attacks."

'Here to stay'

This year's pride motto is "We are here to stay." The annual parade is organized by the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, a grass-roots organization which runs a center that supports the LGBTQ community in Jerusalem.

"I think it is a huge tragedy for the community, in terms of loss of life, the injuries, but also in the wider context of the mental wounds," said Tom Canning, associate director of the Open House, in an interview with DW. "We lost the privilege of feeling safe in our city."

This year's pride parade is seen as an important step to rebuild confidence. "This year is a very complicated pride: it is a celebration where all the activists are out in the public space, it is a protest and it is a memorial for Shira Banki."

Tight security

Security is tight this year - over 1000 police and security officers will guard the parade which runs through the city center in West Jerusalem. Compared to the colorful Gay Pride in Tel Aviv, which draws tens of thousands of people every year, the pride march in Jerusalem is a rather low-key event - adapted to the more complex situation and conservative image of Jerusalem.

Yishai Shlissel (photo: Reuters/R. Zvulun)

Shlissel (left) served time for an almost identical attack on a pride event in 2005

"Jerusalem and its Old City are considered a holy place, and it is kind of a taboo," Eyal said. "So even the most liberal Israelis might be saying: 'But why do you have to do it in Jerusalem? Can't you go to Tel Aviv?'"

In the past weeks, several prominent rabbis have made homophobic comments, among them a rabbi from the Israeli military. And as every year, the extreme right-wing organization Lehava has already announced to hold an anti-pride event. Their leader, Bentzi Gopstein, took to Facebook to write the pride march would feature all of "society's scum and filth" with the only goal of "befouling the atmosphere of the holy city."

Support came this year from Israel's President Reuven Rivlin, who spoke with the family of Shira Banki and members of the LGBTQ community on Sunday. "We must end the incitement against the LGBT community, and any support that such views receive," Rivlin said. Statements in this regard from prominent rabbis and religious leaders "had pained him greatly."

However, the decision by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat not to take part in the pride march drew criticism in the Israeli media. In an interview with the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Barkat said that the parade was "offensive to the ultraorthodox and national religious public." The Jerusalem municipality, the police and he would do "everything we can to enable them to exercise their right, but they have to know it offends others," he added.

Jerusalem - a complicated city

Unlike Tel Aviv, which is promoted by Israel as the gay-friendliest city in the Middle East and draws thousands of visitors for its gay pride events every year, the situation in Jerusalem is much more complicated. "Within the center, we have people who are Arab, who are Jewish, we have ultra-orthodox people and secular people," Open House's Canning said.

"We are still fighting for our space, because we are not yet accepted by everyone. But I think it is important that it is not only religious people that dislike us. It is people who are homophobic and they come from all backgrounds," he added.

Noam Eyal (photo: DW/T.Krämer)

Eyal hopes many people will show up for this year's pride as this would help him find closure with the attack, he said

Open House has been taking care of the LGBTQ community for many years. Only a modest rainbow flag on the outside identifies the place in the city center of Jerusalem. There is a health clinic, programs for young and older people, and, since last year, a program in memoriam of Banki to promote dialogue with the religious community and to promote tolerance in schools.

Hadas Bloemendal is one of the activists who take care of gay youth. She grew up in an orthodox family and says a lot needs to be done. "We do hear from students that sometimes teachers are outing them in front of the class, or there are cases of severe mobbing among pupils."

Bloemendal will accompany some of the youth to the pride event - and like everyone here, she hopes it will be a peaceful and safe event with many people marching in the streets.

At the beginning of the pride parade, a gay couple will get married in a symbolic act - same-sex marriage in Israel is illegal.

Despite last year's attack, Eyal is also going to be part of the march again. "The most important thing what the Gay Pride does is it gets people to get used to see gay people as they are, out in the open, as a normal thing."

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