Jerusalem's main 2006 gay pride event ended without major incident early Friday afternoon, and as the attendees began to stream out of the Hebrew University stadium, police breathed a sigh of relief. They had successfully passed what Jerusalem District chief Cmdr. Ilan Franco described as "one of the most complex tests that the Jerusalem Police and the Israel Police as a whole have had to face."
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For a Jerusalem Online video of events click here
Some 3,000 officers were deployed, while estimates of the number of demonstrators ran between 2,000 and 6,000. In any case, the police to protester ratio was very high and - barring a single incident - nothing interrupted the festivities.
That incident took place a few minutes after the event began, when a man in his thirties who police said entered the compound by pretending to be gay jumped onto the podium while calling out anti-homosexual slogans. He was detained for questioning.
A few minutes later - in what turned out to be a dramatic false alarm - police detained five Orthodox youths in Gan Sacher carrying knuckle-dusters, clubs and knives, as well as a legally-licensed handgun. Police soon discovered that the five had come to the park to practice martial arts, and that they had no intent of assaulting rally participants.
Speakers at the rally reiterated their intention to stand strong in the face of threats and their disappointment in political leaders for failing to do more to quiet the tension in Jerusalem in recent weeks.
"We did not expect such wild incitement on the part of so many public figures. We didn't expect such an embarrassing silence from our leaders," said Jerusalem City Council Member Sa'ar Netanel (Meretz). "During days such as these when one group terrorizes another group, the leaders of the country should have stood up and said, 'This is enough.'"
Netanel singled out Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski for going "underground while his city burned."
He also cited the silence of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose daughter Dana, a lesbian, was reportedly present at the march.
The crowd also responded enthusiastically to Adam Russo, who was stabbed during last year's Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade. He took to the stage with the rainbow flag that he had carried during the 2005 year's march.
"It is easy to see that justice is on our side. This is an another important signpost on the way to liberating Jerusalem," Russo said. "The blood that was on last year's flag will not stop the march."
Ninety minutes before the event began, an incident in Jerusalem's Bell Park threatened to ruin the quiet. A group described by police as "a few dozen extremist homosexuals" violated the deal reached Thursday between the event's organizers, the Jerusalem Open House, and police in which the participants agreed not to parade through Jerusalem's streets.
The group in the park was trying to hold a march from the park to the Givat Ram campus a few kilometers away. A handful of ultra-right-wing activists including Noam Federman, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Baruch Marzel arrived at the same spot, and tensions ran high as the two groups traded insults.
Police prevented the gay rights activists from taking to the streets and kept the two groups from coming to blows. About 30 gay rights activists were detained for questioning when they refused to board buses to Givat Ram. One right-wing activist was also taken into custody.