Doomsday Predictions, Violence Up As Jerusalem Gay March Approaches

Explosions. Blocked highways. Armed vigilantes on rooftops. Blood in the streets of the holy city. The nightmarish scenarios raised by Israeli police ahead of next week’s international gay pride parade in Jerusalem are reminiscent of the worst terrorist alerts.

The concern that religious groups could turn violent over WorldPride 2006 is so high that Israeli officials are hinting that the event, scheduled for Nov. 10, may not go ahead.

“The security alerts regarding the parade are real, and we plan to dedicate police forces to the capital as needed,” Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said Wednesday. “But should this deployment mean that the security ‘red lines’ in the rest of the country are breached, then we will have to reassess.”

In what Israeli media described as a “dress rehearsal” for what could happen during the planned parade, fervently Orthodox Jews rampaged in their Jerusalem neighborhood Tuesday night, torching garbage and throwing stones at police.

“The religious community is begging: Save Jerusalem from disgrace and catastrophe,” read a sign borne by one protestor. Another slogan: “Jerusalem won’t become Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Israelis are mindful that the threats of violence have a very real precedent: During a local gay pride parade last year, a fervently Orthodox Jew who called himself an emissary of God went on a stabbing spree, wounding three marchers. He was jailed for 12 years.

Now police are speaking of religious protesters who could storm road junctions to stop traffic, throw dangerous debris on marchers and even use firecrackers to simulate terrorist bombings that would confuse police.

There also have been nonviolent efforts to scupper the parade, including public calls by a coalition of Jewish, Muslim and Christian clerics and a failed appeal to the High Court of Justice.

For members of Israel’s gay community, the event is an opportunity to march for acceptance in their capital alongside, potentially, thousands of fellow activists from abroad.

“This is a struggle for the character of Jerusalem and for the State of Israel,” said Saar Menanel, an openly gay city councilman. “We want to be tolerated for what we are. We are not going to flaunt our sexuality.”

A liberal lawmaker, Ran Cohen of the Meretz Party, deplored Dichter’s suggestion that the perceived threat level could warrant cancelling the march.

“It is incumbent upon the police to tackle those who would harm others for their beliefs,” Cohen said.

But a former chief of Jerusalem police, Arieh Amit, appealed to the organizers of WorldPride 2006 to think about relocating. Gay pride parades and mixed “love parades” are regularly staged in Tel Aviv without incident.

“Just as no one would dream of holding such an event in the Vatican or in Mecca, so should the considerations be regarding Jerusalem,” Amit said. “It is not worth the risk of serious injury, or worse, just because someone insists on holding this event in Jerusalem rather than anywhere else in Israel.”

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