Monday, November 13, 2006

Brave Brothers and Sisters

4,000 rally for Pride at Jerusalem stadium

SUMMARY: The event, moved to a heavily policed stadium for security reasons, goes off without a hitch; a handful of protesters are arrested elsewhere.

Israel's gay community braved vehement opposition from religious fundamentalists and held a large rally Friday in Jerusalem, complete with live rock music, dancing and declarations of pride.

The event -- originally planned as a march through the city -- was held behind fences at a university sports stadium on the Holy City's outskirts after organizers bowed to police fears of violent protests by ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Nearly 4,000 revelers flocked to the stadium, about the same number as attended last year's Pride march in the city, where Jewish, Muslim and Christian opposition to the events runs high.

Participants were mainly dressed in regular street clothes -- making it a far more staid affair than Pride events in the more permissive city of Tel Aviv -- although one bearded man sported the black hat and jacket usually worn by ultra-Orthodox men, but with a magenta taffeta skirt and candy-striped tights.

Police said 3,000 officers were deployed to secure the rally. Five protesters, some of them armed with knives and batons, were arrested during a brief scuffle with a small group of gay activists who tried to march along the planned route, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. Another was arrested after calling out homophobic slurs in the stadium, he said.

Last year's march was marred by bloodshed when an ultra-Orthodox man stabbed and wounded three participants.

In the past week, hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews battled police and torched vehicles and trash bins in the streets to protest the planned march, and threatened further violence if the parade went ahead.

Police security worries spiraled after an errant Israeli artillery shells killed 19 civilians in Gaza on Wednesday and Palestinian militants vowed to carry out suicide bombings in Israel in retaliation.

Responding to those concerns, Pride organizers agreed to turn the parade into a rally, held inside the fenced-in stadium of Jerusalem's Hebrew University, which was ringed by mounted police and anti-riot units.


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