(photo credit: )
For one moment, during the annual Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem on Thursday, marchers and protesters sang to a similar tune.
"Jerusalem of Gold," the ballad that united Israelis following the Six Day War, once again echoed in the streets of the capital as both gay rights activists and religious counterprotesters used the song as their anthem.
The point of unity may have been unintentional, but was not entirely surprising, as both the protesters and the marchers acknowledged that the theme of the parade was more about its Jerusalem location than its message of gay pride.
"When we march in Tel Aviv it's like a big party. We have music, we have fun. We are glad to be here but it isn't funâ€¦ we're looking over our shoulders all the time, wondering if it will become violent," said David Etkes, a Tel Aviv University student participating in the event. "We came here because we wanted to show Jerusalem that they can't scare the gay community. Jerusalem must learn to accept us, too."
While there are annual Gay Pride Parades in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Eilat, it is the yearly event in Jerusalem that draws the most attention, and antagonism. Most of the opposition to the parade has been from religious organizations, who believe that it is inappropriate to hold the event in Jerusalem. Dora, a 16-year-old who refused to give her last name and said that she was from the former Gush Katif settlement bloc in Gaza, said that she saw the parade as a "defilement" of Jerusalem.
"These people belong in a zoo, not in the holy city of Jerusalem. Let them go anywhere else. Why do they have to be here?" she asked. Along with four other friends, most of whom still had orange ribbons from their anti-disengagement protests attached to their backpacks, Dora managed to circumvent the 7,500 police officers cordoning off the area surrounding the march, and got within shouting distance of the marchers.
The small group of girls began singing "Jerusalem of Gold" just as a group of youths from the left-wing Meretz Party walked by using the same melody. For a moment, the two groups looked at one another confused, but then each began to sing even louder to claim the song as their own.
Hours before the march began, police in blue and green were to be seen on almost every street corner within kilometers of the protests.
The police, many of them reinforcements from outside of the city, waited in the sun, some decked out in anti-stab vests, riot-proof helmets lying on the curb. But barring a handful of arrests, most of the law enforcement teams spent the early afternoon hours pawing through boxed lunches and drinking water - lots of water - in the glaring sun.
As the marchers began to gather at the foot of King David Street, police helicopters and an unmanned arial vehicle circled above. The street itself was flanked by a phalanx of police officers and anti-riot fences.
But the massive police presence was anything but intimidating for the hundreds of tourists who left the air conditioning of their hotels to watch the parade from the curb. Storeowners at the upscale galleries that line the street stood in their doorways, complaining that the march prevented customers from visiting, and the Hebrew Union College gates were decked with signs supporting the march.
A battalion of private security guards, all wearing high-visibility yellow jackets, were briefed by a police officer. The guards stood in the middle of the street like children on a field trip, carrying backpacks and bottled water, as a police officer instructed them through a loudspeaker. "Anybody who comes in, you search for glass bottles, knives, explosivesâ€¦. Anybody who doesn't agree to be searched doesn't come in to the secure zone," he barked. "If you need help, we're right there behind you. Any trouble, call a police officer."
The gathering point at the base of the street began to fill, and - as scheduled - border policemen formed a wall, marching at the head of the parade to make sure that no protesters surged into the activists.
Minutes before it was set to begin, several young religious men, who had disguised themselves in colorful and loose clothing, snuck into the beginning of the parade and chanted anti-gay rights slogans at the marchers. During the event, a handful of religious young men and women tried to approach the protesters but were quickly engulfed by police.
As the parade got under way, the mood seemed subdued. Occasional ripples of songs and cheers spread through the crowd, but the enthusiasm of previous years seemed lacking. Only when the marchers reached the King David Hotel and were greeted by applauding tourists did the excitement noticeably increase.
"This is nothing like the parades I've seen in other cities," said one tourist who stepped into the crowd to take pictures. "In Paris, we have floats, music, dancing."
A group of men dressed in pink T-shirts and carrying pink parasols peeked out from behind the stern line of Border Police officers and primped for the line of photographers capturing the parade's every inch of progress on film. A tall blond woman led those around her in Israeli - and even Chassidic - folk tunes.
But within a matter of a few mere minutes, the front of the parade managed to reach the end of the 500-meter marching route. Marchers seemed reluctant to leave, remaining on the street to socialize as loudspeakers blasted promotions for the "after party" at a local bar and thanked police and other agencies for helping to make the march possible.
Most of the marchers were packed into buses that ferried them away from the site. Ultimately, only a dozen protesters were left under the arches of rainbow balloons, until police dispersed them.