Some 25,000 people arrived at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv Saturday night to honor the victims of last week's shooting attack on a gay youth center in the city, that left two people, Nir Katz and Liz Trobishi, dead.
Participants in the rally, titled: 'Staying proud' waved the gay community's rainbow flag and held signs with various messages including: "Thou shall not kill".
Uri Gil, who was injured during the attack on the center, took the stage at the rally together with his friend Chen Langer and said, "That place was a warm and loving home for them and they met wonderful people there."
"This past week I have been haunted by nightly fear, especially when I think that the murderer is walking around out there," he added. "No murderer will keep us in the closet."
Chen Langer, a youth counselor at the center who was also injured in the attack, arrived in a wheelchair and spoke after Gil. "This is the day in which we cease to be silent, to hide, and to alter the appearance of reality."
Langer tearfully added, "The home that was a place of security for youths became a slaughterhouse of youths."
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai opened the rally and said the city felt a profound failure following the shooting: "We must legislate and call out loudly: No more incitement. We would like today for the bullets that pierced Liz and Nir to be the bullets that break through the walls of hatred and ignorance in our society."
Thousands attend rally (Photo: Yael Golan)
The rally's host, Gal Uchovsky, then gave his speech. "The prime minister has promised to act in order to change what is happening, and firstly that the Israeli government will not abandon the 12 people injured in the attack. We have demanded that the prime minister and the state acknowledge them as victims of terror and accompany them along the route to recovery," he told the crowd.
Peres: Every person has freedom to be who he is
President Shimon Peres then took the stage, opening his speech with: "We are the people of 'Thou shall not kill'."
He said the murderer did not only hurt those that were killed and injured: "The gunshots that hit the gay community earlier this week hit us all. As people. As Jews. As Israelis. The person who pointed the gun at Nir Katz and Liz Trubeshi pointed it at all of you as well, at all of us, at you, at me. There can be no gunmen within us."
Peres continued to say that there should be no discrimination of people because of their sexual tendencies. "All citizens are citizens with equal rights. Every person is born equal, and every citizen has the freedom to be who he is. And permission to be different and proud is a given. We have no authority to interfere in other peoples' lives, as long as they maintain law and order. Only tyrants in dictatorial regimes take this authority upon themselves."
At the end of his speech, Peres said the killer should be condemned. "No one can raise the dead, and therefore, no one has the right to take a life. None of us are exempt from rising up against such a crime, and against such criminals. We are born to freedom – and in freedom we shall live."
The rally at Rabin Sqaure (Photo: Ofer Amram)
"I came here to identify with this supreme truth. I cam here to shed a tear for the loss of these young lives, for the injustice. Israel will never make peace with such crimes, and will not rest until the culprit is brought to justice… This horrendous act of murder will not be erased from our hearts." The crowd responded with raging applause.
Gal Uchovsky, the host of the rally, thanked the president warmly, and said, "I got the chills from the president's speech. We have been waiting for the president to say such things about us for a long time – but not under these circumstances of course."
Before the rally, Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat said she would support any GLBT bills proposed by legislators.
"I am here to identify with you and to call on the parents to cope and to give their children love and warmth. There is a certain hatred and ignorance in society and among certain communities that are motivated by fear," Livnat said.
Education minister: GLBTs contribute greatly to Israel
Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said at the rally, "The GLBT community is one of the communities that has contributed the most to the State of Israel in many fields – in culture, in the arts, in the legal system, education and the military. It is out of the ordinary, it is because of its talent.
"Every single member of the community has the basic right to live their live without fear and without being a target of hatred, contempt and condemnation – we will all defend this right."
He then pledged that the education system will do more to deepen education in tolerance and accepting those who are different. "The education system will have training, will give tools to educators and teachers to reach out to distressed boys and girls who suffer not because of a transgression they have committed, but because of who they are."
Earlier, organizers of the rally reported receiving various threats against themselves and participants. Organizers of transportation from Beersheba and Haifa said they received phone calls from unknown persons threatening to arrive at pickup points with ammunition, and in Jerusalem police arrested a Nahal Haredi soldier on suspicion he threatened participants in the rally.