Gay Rights Rally: Temporary sanity under duress

November 11, 2006 23:45
2 minute read.

Police did not even wait until the Jerusalem gay pride event ended early Friday afternoon to declare victory and take credit for defusing a potential powder keg through an eleventh-hour compromise. Instead of the doomsday scenarios posited earlier last week - including nationwide protests similar to those before disengagement, violence in the capital's streets and a deliberate collapse of Jerusalem's electrical grid - Friday proved to be a quiet, sunny day. "Sanity has returned to Jerusalem," Jerusalem district police chief Cmdr. Ilan Franco told reporters from the police control hub south of the main stage at the Givat Ram event. And so it seemed. Driving around the city Friday morning, Jerusalemites may have noticed traffic jams in the approaches to Givat Ram and the lack of communication among police officers directing traffic at key intersections. But other than that - and the bands of bored police officers standing guard on sidewalks - a casual visitor might not have noticed anything out of order in the city. However, the genuine Jerusalem Syndrome - passionate and even paranoid distrust - was visible to anyone who scratched the surface of Friday's smooth and polished veneer. The approaches to Givat Ram were managed by a series of police checkpoints; every vehicle was stopped and examined. Starting at Rehov Herzog, each vehicle had to pass through at least four checkpoints before coming within 100 meters of the Hebrew University's stadium. Public transportation was stopped nearby, and at times it seemed as though there were more police than demonstrators. Participants passed through a fenced-in gauntlet of police and civilian security guards to enter the stadium. Despite Thursday's agreement with haredi leaders, it was clear police weren't taking any chances. Any presence of haredim - or even of crocheted-kippa wearing pedestrians - made police look twice. A group of five kippa-wearing youth who entered Gan Sacher, about a kilometer away from the stadium, was detained when police discovered they were carrying knives and knuckle-dusters. The group was released hours later after police confirmed that they had arrived at the park to practice martial arts. Rainbow-striped gay pride flags were tucked away until their owners passed the last checkpoint, and the vast majority of the attendees arrived in non-attention-grabbing T-shirts and jeans, a far cry from the sometimes-provocative costumes of previous years. The police provided the Givat Ram ridge with a security perimeter that rivaled the nation's most sensitive strategic sites. It was a veritable "who's who" of the Israel Police, as motorcycling-Yasam troops buzzed between plainclothes police cars passing by parked Border Police vans, police jeeps, ATVs and even the occasional Israel Prisons Service transport vehicle. For added mobility, the police rented additional cars and even brought souped-up golf carts in from as far away as the northern Galilee town of She'ar Yashuv. The event ran smoothly, and while gay activists complained that they felt penned-in and anti-parade activists reluctantly heeded the rabbis' calls to stop protesting, Jerusalem continued with its Friday afternoon. Did the police negotiation and planning prevent an explosion - either real or metaphoric - in the capital? Probably. Has "sanity returned to Jerusalem," as Franco announced? Absolutely not. While the police kept the peace, another layer of mutual resentment and distrust was added to the Jerusalem landscape Friday. And while the leaders of both the haredi and gay communities managed to restrain their radical wings, both sides promised they'd be back next year - stronger and more resolute. If anything, the close of a surprisingly uneventful Friday heralded a return to the status quo and the end of a few hours of forced temporary sanity.

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