Under heavy security on Thursday afternoon, participants in the Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance began to gather for what has already become the largest Pride parade in the capital ever. Hundreds of police officers will be securing the event and are carrying out thorough checks of all entering, and over 10,000 participants have already arrived.
The participants are gathering first in Liberty Bell Park. There, a wedding ceremony between Jerusalemites Yochai Werman and Yotam Hacohen kicked off the events. On placing a ring on Werman's finger, Hacohen recited the biblical verse, "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine." Werman chose, on placing a ring on his husband's finger, the verse, "Many waters cannot quench love."
Just before the couple broke the traditional glass, Werman said to the assembled thousands, "Even at this happy moment, we don't forget the people who fought and sacrificed, and the sacrifice that they made so that we could choose each other and choose before everybody.
"Last year's murder was for me and for all of you a kind of churban (destruction) of Jerusalem, and at the moment that we remember the churban, we cannot fail to remember the flower that was plucked last year. The answer to it is to continue to fight for a supportive and inclusive Jerusalem for everyone."
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Hacohen's father grabbed the microphone and cried out, "I'm a happy father; you're the proof that love wins." Hacohen was referencing the theme of this year's march, "Love wins."
Other festivities at the park are emceed by Jerusalemite drag queen Gallina Port Des Bras. At 5:45pm, a march was intended to set out through through Liberty Bell Garden, Keren Hayesod St., King George St., Meir Shaham St., Rabi Akiva St., Hillel St., Menashe Ben Israel St. and Independence Garden (Gan Haatzmaut). However, due to the shockingly long lines to enter, the parade's commencement was delayed about a half hour.
Jerusalem District Police Commander Yoram Halevy announced that the march would continue on its planned route despite threats by extremist elements to disrupt it.
"Any and all attempts to disrupt the parade will be met with a firm and resolute response, and they will be arrested and prosecuted," Halevy warned. This statement comes following a controversial decision to change the route of the Be'er Sheva Pride parade due to various threats of disruption.
The police arrested 48 persons suspecting of intending to harm marchers. Amongst those arrested were activists from the right-wing organization Lehava who were en route to a demonstration Lehava organized. Several of them were armed with knives, which were taken by the police.
Lehava Chairman Ben-Zion Gopstein said, "The police are willfully harming the demonstration. They want to shut us up." Itamar Ben Gvir, a right-wing activist and lawyer who is representing the Schlissel family, said, "In the name of freedom of expression of the (Jerusalem) Open House, they're harming everyone who thinks differently. There's no democracy."
Access to the march will only be possible through the starting point of Liberty Bell Park. Similarly, exiting the march path will be allowed through the end point at Independence Garden and through Rabbi Akiva St. In addition, the parade will pass through the same area where last year where 16-year-old Shira Banki was murdered.
Organizers have asked that marchers come with flowers and place them at the spot of the murder as a sign of remembrance. An event concluding the march will take place in Independence Garden commencing at 19:45, which will be hosted by actress Gila Almagor.
Banki's murderer, Yishai Schlissel, who is serving life in prison, allegedly conspired
with his brother from his prison cell to have the latter perpetrate an attack at the march. Michael Schlissel, the brother, has been arrested.
Present in the parade and marching are Banki's mother and father, Uri and Mika. They met earlier in the week with President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, where the president called for an end to incitement against the LGBT community.
Many members of Knesset came to support the marchers, including Leader of the Opposition Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union), Zehava Galon (Meretz), Shelly Yachimovich, Micky Rosenthal, and Nachman Shai (all three of Zionist Union).
The chairman of the Yesh Atid party, MK Yair Lapid, who was also present, said, "This is a day of love and happiness. I think that the ability to accept others is the basis of human society. Anyone who is unable to accept that—they've got a problem."
Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan (Likud) said before the march began, "What I've seen in recent days is very, very painful. We live in a Jewish and democratic state, I grew up in a religious household, and I graduated from a yeshiva high school. The most important principle that we were taught was 'Love your neighbor as yourself—this is the whole Torah,' and this is the thing that has kept the Jewish people throughout the generations."
The minister referenced the upcoming fast day that commemorates the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem by the Romans that led to the destruction of the Second Temple: "We are here two days before the 17th of Tamuz…and when we speak of the churban of the Temple, it took place because of baseless hatred. My expectation of rabbis and leaders of this community is that they be a unifying voice, a voice that consolidates, of tolerance, of accepting the other and the different. A voice of unity and not of division and hatred.
At the concluding ceremony in Independence Park,
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Jerusalem District Police Commander Yoram Halevy laid flowers at the place of Shira Banki's murder on Thursday before the march began. Barkat said, "I understand the pain and criticism of those who don't agree with my decision not to participate in the march. I chose a different way to honor the memory of Shira Banki, a sweet girl who was murdered because of baseless hatred, and I lay, together with the commander of the Jerusalem District Police, a flower at the place of the murder. I pray with all my heart that on this day, we will all of us unite against any display of incitement, violence."