Despite numerous attempts to cancel it, the Jerusalem Pride Parade was held on Thursday. Thousands of participants gathered in Independence Park at 4:00 pm under the banner of 'Free Love', and marched to Liberty Bell Park, where a ceremony was held.
Jonathan Ger Liebovich, CEO of Jerusalem's Open House, spoke before the participants and said, "This year there was almost no violence, and almost no sedition. We are nearing the day when we will be part of the Jerusalem's routine and native scenery."
As he spoke, Liebovich removed a black candle from his pocket and explained, "This candle is from the Pulsa Denura (Kabbalistic death curse) ceremony that was held against us last year. This candle will remind us that we are living in a Jewish and democratic country and we, too, are part of the democracy and part of the religion."
Thousands take part in 2008 Pride Parade (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
The event was uneventful, and participants relinquished the flamboyant mode of dress typical of the parade. "I believe most Jerusalemites don't have a problem with us, we don't bother anyone," said Lior Kiara Duple, a participant. "We hope the parade will go by peacefully, without interruptions or harassment."
During the parade marchers called out slogans such as "It's our right to march, our right to demonstrate, before the Right's homophobia", "Homophobia in Jerusalem – no, pride in Jerusalem – yes", and "We won't return to the closet, no democracy without equality".
Meanwhile, a rally was taking place in Sabbath Square, with hundreds of participants carrying signs saying "High Court against the family unit" and "Torah above the High Court".
Police prevented a number of right-wing activists from marching towards Independence Park, but many garbage cans were set on fire in a number of ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Moishe Sternbuch told those participating in the right-wing rally that "even the small community gathering here is a deterring force, a few of a few is also good. This is a time of concealed faces. The lord must bear protest and welcome our forgiveness." He concluded his speech by saying, "They have no part in Israel and may their names be erased." The crowd then answered, "Amen".
Ultra-Orthodox protest in Sabbath Square. (Photo: Dudi Vaaknin)
As opposed to previous years, the preparations for the 2008 parade went by nearly without a hitch, though authorities expressed concern of possible acts of violence at the hands of extremist groups.
Prior to the parade Amit Lev, spokesperson for the Open House in Jerusalem, said preparations for the parade went by quietly this year, and that the association did not receive any threats. "During previous years there was a lot of pressure and we received threats," he said. "Every envelope we received we opened with gloves for fear of attempts to harm us.
"This year, to our delight, was peaceful. We are going to march quietly and proudly in Jerusalem, as the police, the municipality, and the High Court have approved. I am aware that a rally has been planned in Jerusalem, and we accept this rally as long as it is held democratically and without violence of any kind."
Pre-parade incitement did occur, however, and took the form of posters that were hung throughout the capital's streets, and which called on Jerusalem's residents to "commit their souls" against "the abomination parade" and stone those taking part in it.
The posters were allegedly signed by Yishai Schlissel, who stabbed and wounded three participants of the May 2006 Jerusalem Pride Parade. He was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 12 years in prison. It is unclear, however, whether his signature is genuine. The identity of those behind the posters remains unknown.
Right wing activists also launched complex preparations for the parade. "We will try to disrupt the parade in protest of the provocateurs who seek to harm the Jewish identity of Jerusalem," extreme right wing activist Itamar Ben-Gvir told Ynet. Ben-Gvir was one of those barred from entering the park.
Regarding rumors of a white powder sprinkled upon the path of the parade, Ben-Gvir said, "I don't know about this incident, but I am not surprised that there are people who do such things."
Moshe Ben-Zikri, another right-wing extremist who snuck into the last two parades, was taken in for questioning Wednesday night by police and then placed under house arrest. In response, Ben-Zikri told Ynet, "I understand the police, they don't want any violations of public order. The parade is a disgrace to Israel and its citizens. I wanted to protest and express my objection, but now I am confined to my home."
He recounted his actions of the past two years. "I have dressed up as a homosexual twice. Once I participated in the event, and once I even went on stage. I do not break the law, I am not violent, I just want to express verbal protest."