A German tourist, an Arab from Jaffa and an orthodox Jewish man from Jerusalem all walk into a gay bar in Tel Aviv. Sounds like the start of a joke that could go in any number of directions but this is a likely scenario this week in the lead-up to Tel Aviv Gay Pride. During this time, Tel Aviv is awash with pride flags and many of the White City's main streets have come alive with the colors of the rainbow. It's an opportunity for people from all walks of life from around the country, and indeed the world, to come together, be proud of who they are and take the opportunity to talk to those who they may not usually come into contact with.

Alongside the flags,Tel Aviv's streets have filled up with thousands of tourists who have flown in specially to the "Manhattan of the Middle East" to enjoy all the events and parties put on in anticipation of the main event, the pride parade, which will take place on Friday.

With the summer just beginning and beach season in full swing, it's only natural that the center of the action during this week is Hilton Beach, long-established as Tel Aviv's main "gay beach." Every day since last Friday, top DJs have been spinning tunes and entertaining the tourists and locals to create a buzzing vibe on the beach. Revelers have been soaking up the infectious atmosphere that's very quickly making Tel Aviv one of the top gay destinations around the world among the discerning international gay community.

The international gay travelers are seen as an important market for Tel Aviv, and Adir Steiner from the city's municipality says more is done each year to make tourists feel welcome. Steiner, who heads the freedom of information department at the Tel Aviv Municipality and is co-operator of pride events, says that attracting gay tourists to Tel Aviv is important economically but the social aspect is even more important. "Tel Aviv pride is one of the most important in the world and it affects the whole country," he told The Jerusalem Post. "The tourists who come here have the chance to learn from us and we can learn a lot from them."

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Steiner stressed the importance of investing in tourist infrastructure and explained that Hilton Beach has been transformed into a non-stop chill out party complete with pride flags and DJs spinning the latest tunes. A comprehensive booklet, in both Hebrew and English with all the information about pride events, is available for free at the beach as well, so there is no excuse to miss out on any of the numerous events taking place throughout the city, he added. There will also be a number of surprises to look out for.

Over 5,000 tourists traveled to Tel Aviv last year especially for the pride events, and even more are expected this year. Marc, from London and in Tel Aviv for the first time, says that he can't believe how great the atmosphere is. "I had read so much in the past couple of years in the British and international press about how great the scene was in Tel Aviv and especially the pride events so I decided I just had to check it out," Marc told the Post. Unlike many visitors who come to Israel for religious reasons, Marc is purely here to enjoy himself and have a good time.

"I love how warm and interesting the people are here," he explained. "I know there are a lot of gay people in town because of pride but I was surprised to see so many all around the city and such a free atmosphere everywhere. The rainbow flags all over the place are also great to see."

Some of Marc's friends thought he was "mad" for coming to the Middle East, but he explained that the security situation didn't bother him. "Anything can happen anywhere around the world these days so for me being here in Israel is no more dangerous then anywhere else and if I hadn't have come here I wouldn't have discovered what a great place it is," he said. "Right now sitting on the beach, enjoying the sunshine, meeting loads of great people and listening to great music I really can't feel any conflict."

Marc said he would go back home and encourage his friends to come out next year to join in the celebrations.

An estimated 100,000 people will take to the streets this Friday for the main event, the Gay Pride March, which will begin at 10 a.m. with a community happening at Meir Park with musical performances, celebrity appearances and speeches by public figures such as Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz and Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich.

The parade itself will begin at 1 p.m. and will feature a procession of floats and organized groups of marchers who will be accompanied by thousands of supporters waving pride flags and enjoying the fine summer weather. The parade will leave Meir Park, travel down Bugrashov Street then pass through Ben Yehuda Street onto Arlozorov Street, ending with a beach party at Gordon Beach starting at 3 p.m. Appearing on the central stage at Gordon Beach will be some of Tel Aviv's top DJs including Offer Nissim, Tal Cohen and Avihai Partok. Internationally recognized Israeli musicians Ivri Lider and Jonny Goldstein, the two main members of the pop-dance group The Young Professionals, will be hosting Uriel Yekutiel on stage.




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