Israel, the contentious strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea, is a place where cultures meet and, too often, clash. In today's world, it's next to impossible not to know at least the generalities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but a struggle that attracts far less attention is that of the nation's LGBT population. For years now, Tel Aviv has been celebrated as one of the top gay destinations in the world--this year's Tel Aviv Pride attracted over 180,000 people--as a bastion of liberalism in an otherwise hostile Middle East. Jerusalem, however, is another story.
As the epicenter of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim life in Israel, Jerusalem is far more conservative than it's seaside sister city. Activists work to hold yearly LGBT Pride parades and celebrations in the capital, however, despite heated opposition from local conservative religious groups. Today's parade, which was aimed at highlighting the struggle trans people face in Israel, was violently interrupted when an ultra-orthodox Jewish man attacked participants. Described as a "lone-wolf" assailant, he stabbed at least 6 people, leaving two critically injured, according to Magen David Adom (the Israeli version of the Red Cross). Incredibly, Israeli police have confirmed that the attacker, Yishai Shlissel, was the same man who stabbed three at Jerusalem Pride in 2005. He was recently released from prison after serving 10 years on charges of attempted murder and aggravated assault. After Shlissel was arrested and the victims were taken to hospitals, Pride organizers decided to continue, and the parade finished its planned route.
Today's parade was expected to attract around 5,000 participants, who were to be protected by hundres of police, soldiers, and volunteers. Around 30 right-wing activists were given permits to protest outside the city's Great Synagogue, some distance from the parade route. In response to the event, Naftali Bennett, the conservative Education Minister and leader of the The Jewish Home Party (Habayit Hayehudi), said:
"Whoever did it harmed Jewish and moral values, and must be punished with the utmost severity. When events are clarified Israeli society must do some soul searching to understand how it has come to this."
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu similarly condemned the attack, saying:
"An individual's freedom of choice is one of the basic values of the State of Israel. We must ensure that every man and woman to live confidently in any way you choose."
Despite Israel's professed acceptance of LGBT poeple, the orthodox retain a stranglehold of life in the Jewish state, despite making up only 10% of the population. Mixed-religion marriages are not legally performed in the country, let alone same-sex marriages, although both are recognized by the government if performed abroad in countries where it is legal. Last month, Netanyahu's right-wing government shot down a bill proposed by center-left Yesh Atid to extend non-discrimination protections to people on the basis of gender identity.
Updated: In the evening, hundreds, perhaps thousands, gathered in Tel Aviv to voice their solidarity with the victims, and their anger at the climate of hate fomented by the ultra-orthodox infleunce on Israeli society.
Photos by Khader Abu-Seif
(Lahava, which translates to "flame," is the name of an orthodox exremist group based in Jerusalem that violently oppose Jewish assimilation, cohabitation with Arabs, intermarriage, gay rights, and have repeatedly resorted to vandalism, arson, and incitement to violence. The banner translates to "put out the flame," taking aim at the fact that they are allowed to continue existing, and have yet to be designated a terrorist organization.)
The attack spurred a speedy condemnation from the government, with the strongest statements, unsurprisingly, coming from members of the opposition. Joint leaders of the center-left Zionist Unionist Party, Tzipi Livni (left) and Isaac Herzog, and leader the leftist Meretz Party, Zehala Galon, added Facebook's rainbow pride filter to their profiles.
Livni, Justice Minister in Netanyahu's last government, has used the attack to call for legal and educational reforms, and for the suppression of bigoted views espoused by extremists within the current right-wing coalition government.
Updated: On Sunday morning, 16-year-old Shira Banki, who had been left in critical condition following Thursday's attack at the gay Pride parade, passed away. Police report that two victims remain in serious condition.
In a statement, Zionist-Union leader Isaac Herzog said: "I cry for Shira... she is the age of my children. We will not tolerate violence, racism or LGBT-phobia of any kind." He then went on to reiterate his demands that Prime Minister Netanyahu outlaw extreme right-wing Jewish groups.
On Saturday night, an estimated 10,000 gathered in Tel Aviv at a rally to protest the Pride attack and the murder of 18-month-old Ali Saad Dawabsheh in the West Bank. Smaller rallies were also held in Jerusalem, Haifa, and Be'er Sheva.