Despite the months of controversy surrounding the Gay Pride Parade, a number of people found themselves searching the western hills of Jerusalem for a rally Friday that was surprisingly difficult to find.
Barely 24 hours before the parade was scheduled to take place, organizers from the Jerusalem Open House struck a deal with police to hold the event not as a parade, but as a rally in the Givat Ram stadium. While several thousand revelers decked themselves out in rainbow garb to attend the event, a feeling of retreat dampened the sixth annual gay pride event.
Due to a police closure of the area surrounding the stadium, participants were forced to park at least 500 meters away and walk the hilly area. Also as part of the deal, no signs, flags, or banners were placed anywhere around the parade, so that until onlookers approached the clearing where the stadium sits, the only hint of the event was the hundreds of police stationed 20 meters apart from each other from Gan Sacher onwards.
"I was expecting more people, and maybe a bit of a different mood, but the area around here looks like a military occupation," said Sa'ar Netanel, a Jerusalem city councilman and gay activist. "The most important thing is that it happened."
Netanel's sentiment appeared to be shared by the thousands who attended the rally, many of whom expressed disappointment over the cancellation of the parade, but satisfaction that the event had happened.
"There is a dubious feeling here, we just aren't sure if we won or lost," said Benni Aluf, who came to the rally from Tel Aviv. "I have attended every past gay pride event in Israel, from Eilat to the Northâ€¦ On the one hand, at least we had the event. On the other hand, though, look at where we are! Nobody can see us, and even if you are trying to get here you'll get lost on the way. I wanted to sleep in this morning but I knew it was important to come to show the haredim that they didn't win."
The feeling among some of the participants that they were there just to show up the religious protesters of the past week was highlighted by several dozen young men who dressed in the black hats and suits typically worn by haredi males.
"It's sad, but in a way, my coming here was a direct reaction to them not wanting me here," said Joshua Bennison, a Haifa resident who came to the rally dressed as a haredi man. "The police didn't want to let me in, and I had to spend 10 minutes convincing them that I was gay before they let me in."
Many participants were angered that they were asked about their sexual orientation during the security check.
"They talk about having 'sensitivity training' for police, but to have a policeman look you in the face and say 'Are you gay?' is not very sensitive," said one young woman, who gave her first name, Ayelet. "The whole police/security thing really put a damper on my mood."
While musical act Hadag Nahash appeared to lift the mood of the crowd, even the speakers couldn't help commenting on the controversy when they addressed the crowd.
Meretz MKs Ran Cohen and Zahava Gal-On and Hadash MK Dov Henin also attended the event.
"I was shocked that only three politicians attended, since they all talked about it on TV when it suited them" said Aluf. "I guess I didn't come here to see politicians, though. This is like a dating-mixer for a lot of people."
While many of the revelers came with friends and partners, others chose to bring their parents, though at least one participant discovered that being gay would not allow him to avoid the syndrome of Jewish parents trying to set up their children.
As one father-son pair entered the stadium amid a group of leather-clad young men, the father could not seem to help looking around and commenting on his own son's blue jeans and T-shirt.
"Look at how you dress!" said the father. "You'll never catch a husband that way."