Friday, 26 June 2009

Jerusalem's gay community marches through the holy city amid tight security, protests

Jerusalem's gay community marches through the streets of the holy city, under tight security to prevent Ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox Jewish protesters from stopping parade.

JERUSALEM (JUNE 25, 2009) REUTERS -
Thousands of members and supporters of Israel's gay community gathered on Thursday (June 25) to march in the city's annual Pride Parade, held amid heavy security and opponents' demonstrations.
Scores of policemen deployed across Jerusalem's city centre to secure the march, as attendants began flocking one of the city's parks, from which the one kilometre (0.62 mile) parade started.

"It's an amazing opportunity to celebrate our rights and to celebrate, other people - to let them know that there is a place and it is okay to feel what they feel," one parade participant told Reuters television.

Despite the fact that organisers of the annual parade, which has touched off anti-gay protests by ultra-Orthodox Jews in the holy city in the past, said they did not expect violence at this year's event, local police said they were deploying some 1,500 officers to secure the march.

"The Israeli police have taken all necessary steps to make sure that today's event takes place without any disturbances, over 1,500 officers, border police, under cover units are on standby and patrolling the area in and around where the event is taking place and we're hoping that the events will pass quietly and peacefully, based on our assessments," Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld told Reuters during the march, which avoids neighbourhoods where traditionally black-garbed ultra-Orthodox Jews live.

Israeli websites have reported that apart from one incident in which an egg was thrown towards the marchers, the event has ended peacefully.

Many devout Jews, Muslims and Christians view homosexuality as an abomination. In 2005, an ultra-Orthodox Jew stabbed and wounded three participants in the gay march. He is serving a 12-year sentence. But this year they limited their protest to holding street prayers wearing brown sacks in line with a biblical mourning tradition.

"Homosexuals and gays are the destruction of the Western culture. They want to come here to Jerusalem to the Holy Land of the whole world and destroy Jerusalem, destroy the society here and to make us (sick) with their diseases. We came to say Jerusalem isn't for the gays," right-wing activist Baruch Marzel said in one of two protest locations.

The annual march has been held in the Jerusalem since 2001.

Israel also hosts an annual Gay Pride parade in Tel Aviv, which is mostly secular, without controversy. Thousands of people attended one earlier on June, when three gay couple were wedded in a ceremony not recognised by the state of Israel.

Religious tension between ultra orthodox Jews and secular resident of the city are running high in past weeks, due to a plan to open a municipal parking lot on the Jewish resting day of sabbath.

Jewish religious law bans travel on the sabbath, and Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox community has negotiated with city authorities arrangements that limit or ban traffic in their neighbourhoods on Saturdays.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews held stone-throwing protests three weeks ago when the municipal parking lot was last opened on a Saturday and authorities fear a repeat of the violence this weekend.