Jerusalem braces for gay parade violence

Anti-parade activists file complaint stating march is illegal due to absence of firefighting crews; organizers say parade will take place.

parade protest 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 2)
parade protest 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 2)
In a renewed showdown, Jerusalem police are bracing for violence Thursday over a controversial gay parade through the streets of the city. The event, which is slated to take place in central Jerusalem on Thursday evening, was approved by police over the vehement opposition of the haredi and religious public who view such a parade as an abomination and an anathema to core Biblical values. The annual march, which is being organized by Jerusalem's Gay and Lesbian Center at a cost of NIS 500,000, is slated to run from the city's central King David Street to the nearby Liberty Bell Park.
  • 'Right to parade is like right to vote'
  • US Federations finance most of J'lem Gay center Meanwhile, the Israel Prison Service (IPS) made advance preparations for the parade, which is set to take place during the afternoon and 200 cells were cleaned up and prepared in Ma'asiyahu Prison to absorb violent protesters. In Jerusalem's Russian Compound, 100 detainees were transferred to other locations and their places were being prepared to absorb whoever police would choose to detain should the parade get out of hand. Police officers were already positioned along the route of the planned parade at 6:00 a.m. on Thursday. Earlier Wednesday overnight, Police arrested 15 violent protesters in Jerusalem, Israel Radio reported. Hundreds of protesters were still on the streets in the Meah Shearim neighborhood long after midnight. Police was using high-pressure water pipes to disperse the protesters, who were hurling stones at them, not only at street level but also from balconies and rooftops above. Elite police officers trained in commando tactics arrested two protesters whose attacks injured policemen, Army Radio reported. Some of the protesters were also using Molotov cocktails. Shivtei Israel street, a main Jerusalem artery where mostly haredi citizens reside, was closed down to traffic as of Thursday at 3:00 a.m. Jerusalem District Police Commander Major General Ilan Franco was present in person on the scene to oversee the dispersal of protesters. The Gay Parade, which is scheduled to take place in central Jerusalem Thursday evening, was approved by police, notwithstanding the vehement opposition of the haredi and religious public, who view it as a loathsome abomination and anathema to Torah values. The annual march is being organized by Jerusalem's Gay and Lesbian Center at a cost of NIS 500,000. It is slated to run from King David Street to the nearby Liberty Bell Park. Police said 7,500 police will be out in force to safeguard the event, which is expected to be attended by several thousand participants. A simultaneous haredi protest will take place in downtown Jerusalem, police said. The estimated total cost to police is NIS 2 million, an Israel Police spokesman said Wednesday. The prerogative for issuing permits for public events rests with the police, who could have banned the event - or restricted it as they did last year - due to concerns over public safety. After giving their final approval last week, the police had said they could still reconsider their approval for the event based on the situation on the ground. Such a move never happened due, in part, to the backing the event has from the High Court of Justice. Noa Sattath, the executive director of Jerusalem's Gay and Lesbian Center, had warned that the organization would petition the High Court of Justice if police nixed their proposed parade route. Last year's parade through the streets of Jerusalem was canceled following weeks of violent haredi protests. It was confined to an enclosed soccer stadium to avoid clashes. The annual parade, which draws several thousand participants, has been a source of debate, with many religious city councilors and traditional local residents considering such an event inappropriate for a "holy" city. Supporters of the parade counter that freedom of speech enables them to hold the event in Jerusalem, as a symbol of tolerance and pluralism, even if theirs is the minority view. An annual gay pride parade takes place in Tel Aviv. A Knesset bill presented by two religious MKs would give the Jerusalem Municipality the right to ban such events, but the legislation was not completed in time for this year's event. In the week since the police gave the go-ahead for the event, low-level clashes between haredi youths and police have been a nightly occurrence in haredi neighborhoods. Haredim have pelted police with stones, burned garbage bins and blocked traffic. About 80 people have been arrested. A major demonstration against the parade on Sunday organized by the extremist anti-Zionist Eda Haredit attracted 10,000 people, one-tenth the size organizers had hoped for. It was not immediately clear Wednesday if haredi public would turn a blind eye to the parade, as some rabbis suggested, or turn out en masse for the counterprotest. Meanwhile, 10 Israeli far-right activists came to the site of the planned march on Wednesday with two horses in a move meant to symbolize the "bestial march." A 44-year-old haredi man was arrested Wednesday morning while trying to vandalize a homosexual bar in the city, police said. The suspect, who was released on bail, said he wanted to blot out an advertisement for the parade on the outside of the city's Shushan Bar. A suspicious bag left on a major city street had a note that read: "If you do not cancel the march this will be a real bomb," Jerusalem Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said. A bag with electrical wires protruding from it was found in the evening at a city bus stop. It included the message: "Next time it will be a real bomb." The gay organization has held four parades in the city. A 2005 parade ended in violence when a haredi man stabbed three participants. A recent public opinion poll found that two-thirds of Jerusalem residents were opposed to holding such an event in the city. Separately, the High Court of Justice rejected a petition Wednesday against the march filed by a Jerusalem couple. The couple had argued that the march would harm their daughter's bat mitzva celebration on Thursday at a Jerusalem hotel near the parade route. Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report