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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Jerusalem WorldPride Smaller Than Expected
2006-08-16

This article shared 2100 times since Wed Aug 16, 2006
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By Leah Zeesil

This is a city filled with despair and disappointment, but also determination. Organizers and supporters of Jerusalem WorldPride 2006, which occurred Aug. 6-12, had hoped for several thousand people to come. Only several hundred did.

'I am sad,' said one Israeli who asked not to be named. 'We worked very hard and then came the war.' The bombing up north has taken its toll on all kinds of tourism to Israel in what is normally the height of the tourist season for this country. World Pride was not immune.

A medical student active in Jerusalem Open House ( JOH ) , the event's host organization, told of one speaker who was supposed to come from South Africa to address mental health issues among gay Muslims. 'He didn't come. I don't fault him. I think he struggled with his conscience as a Muslim and as a gay man. He was concerned about his safety and how he would be treated here and even whether if he came, he would be permitted to enter.'

But another resident of Jerusalem, a French-born tour guide who emigrated to Israel 30 years ago, stood as a group of about 100 gays and lesbians gathered near one of the gates at the Separation Wall that has given physical reality to the religious differences that fracture this city.

'So many people cancelled, it is even amazing we can have these events. It is totally surreal,' said the resident who was serving as a guide to the large delegation from New York and San Francisco. 'And I am very pleased with those who did come.'

The two buses, loaded mainly with Americans but with a smattering of Canadians and Europeans and a few Israelis from JOH, pulled up outside the giant gray concrete slabs near the gate that separates Jerusalem from Bethlehem shortly before 9 a.m., after less than a 15-minute ride from downtown.

The passengers got off, and picked up rainbow flags and picket signs in Arabic, Hebrew and English that read 'Jerusalem Open House: We Have Love and It Will Win.' They sang songs of peace and protest as Israeli security forces looked on and tour buses and cars passed through the metal gate across what was the main path for Christian pilgrims on their way to the Church of the Nativity.

They had come because there were Palestinian JOH members on the other side of the gate who have been unable to attend any functions at all since the separation wall went up. 'We want to let them know we haven't forgotten them. They are still with us,' said the medical student.

The tour guide said there was never any thought to canceling Pride even with the war. 'It was obvious. We should carry on. It was postponed last year and if we had postponed it again ... there was really too much religious pressure. If it was postponed, it would not have happened at all,' she said.

'We probably won't have any more marches. Maybe in 15 or 20 years, maybe with a new generation,' she continued. 'But it is already amazing to me how much we have accomplished in the last 15 years [ or even ] the last five years. We have legal rights here and in many ways we are much more advanced than other countries. Among the general public we are well accepted.

'But here in Jerusalem, we still have to fight against the religious.'

JOH organizers said that in the weeks leading up to the events, before the war up north started, posters had gone up in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in the city offering a bounty of about $4,500 ( 1,000 NIS ) to anyone who killed a participant.

'When JOH started out asking to host World Pride, it was because they wanted visibility here in Jerusalem,' said Rabbi Laurence Edwards, whose congregation in Chicago, Or Chadash, has many gay members. 'Well, locally they have certainly raised visibility.'

— Rex Wockner


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