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Waiting for the perfect, convenient conditions for liberation, you can grow old and die.

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photo: Tapuz

Gay Pride Jerusalem: Making History in the Holy City

by Kelly Cogswell

JUNE 13, 2002. If you've ever had aspirations of social change you will have heard the refrain, "It's not the right time. Soon. In a little while." Waiting for the perfect, convenient conditions for liberation, you can grow old and die, especially in a city with 4,000 years of history jam-packed with religious and cultural conflict.

On June 7, queer activists in Jerusalem beat the system by ignoring it, acting as if justice and peace were fait accompli instead of a receding fantasy. They festooned bloodsoaked streets with rainbow-colored banners, balloons and flags, and framed their Gay Pride celebration with aspirations for, "Love Without Borders."

Marchers also had signs declaring "Free condoms, Free Palestine" "Transgender, not Transfer," and "Dykes and Fags Against the Occupation." Many of these reappeared at a rally the next day organized by Coalition of Women for a Just Peace.

These are not innocent, traitorous optimists. The march organizer, the Jerusalem Open House, is located at the bombed Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall. According to executive director, Hagai El-Ad, "after each terrorist attack activities attendance drops, but after a while things go back to normal. We've toughened, we're adapting."

As in Palestinian territories, the death toll in Jerusalem mounts weekly, and much of the city seemed to wish the Open House would add their numbers to it. The Deputy Mayor and money man Eli Simchaioff, a strict Orthodox Jew, called them "sickos," and refused to finance the parade as it would non-gay groups, a decision that is being challenged.

Mayor Ehud Olmert tried to convince organizers to hold the event in Tel Aviv, and seemed to regret his country's system of government when he said that he had to allow the march to take place due to the rules of democracy. Ultrareligious groups threatened to stop the march by "all means" including the flinging of rotten vegetables, but opted merely to boycott. The High Court of Justice had to force the dominantly Orthodox Jewish city to provide services, including police protection.

There were some supporters on the street, but many passersby called the gay marchers "abominations," and blamed them for inciting the wrath of God and leaving the nation open to terrorist attacks. Some protesters set off stink bombs, and one man was arrested apparently armed with rotting food.

Anti-gay sentiment by Jerusalem's Arabs, one third of the city's population, was underground, as were gay Palestinians. The Open House is beginning to reach out to gay and lesbian Palestinians with information in Arabic, a hotline, and a coordinator for the Palestinian community, Haneen Maikey. "I feel like I represent every gay and lesbian who will never come out of the closet," the 24-year-old Palestinian told a reporter.

Organizers began the parade in the much-bombed Zion Square, offering a blessing in Arabic, Hebrew, and English, and launching black balloons in memory of all those lost to terror attacks in Jerusalem. Then marchers proceeded through the Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall, an area shunned by residents after a rash of suicide bombings.

The concluding celebration was held at Independence Park, which used to be known for gay cruising and prostitution. Police would go there to beat up queers and harass Arabs. The chairman of the Open House organization, Jerry Levinson, addressed the crowd at the park: "I've hung around this park for many years. I'm familiar with each bench and every corner. I always came secretly, in the dark, in the shadows."

Friday, he was there in the light.

Gay Israel: No Pride in Occupation

History of Gay Israel

Related Links

For Jerusalem Open House, the city's gay community center.

For a bonanza of Middle East and Israeli links from The Jerusalem Post.

For Complete Coverage Middle East

For Complete Coverage Asia

For Complete Coverage Gay Mundo

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gay pride The Gully's ultragay coverage. Includes musings on activism, info on queers from Puerto Rico to Taiwan and more.

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