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'Deciding when or on which street I can hold my girlfriend's hand - it's a struggle'

The recent stabbing of six people at a Gay Pride march in Jerusalem shows the dangerous risks faced by the city’s LBGT community.

Onlookers react after an ultra-Orthodox Jew attacked people during a Gay Pride parade in central Jerusalem
Onlookers react after an ultra-Orthodox Jew attacked people during a Gay Pride parade in central Jerusalem
Image: Sebastian Scheiner/AP/Press Association Images

A SERVER AT Jerusalem’s only gay bar, still shaken by the recent deadly stabbing at a Gay Pride parade, is candid about the difficulties homosexuals face in the Holy City.

“Being gay in Jerusalem is an everyday struggle,” said Moran, who works at Video pub, hidden away in a downtown neighbourhood.

“Deciding when or on which street I can hold my girlfriend’s hand – it’s a struggle.”

Despite being just a short drive from Tel Aviv, considered one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world, Jerusalem can feel like another planet for the homosexual community.

Gay Pride marchers in Jerusalem have been jeered by homophobes, and when they parade it is under heavy police protection.

In Tel Aviv, some 40 miles away, anything goes and few people seem to care.

“Tel Aviv is a bubble where everything is possible,” said Moran. “If you want to walk the streets with a chicken on your head, you can.”

Police protection in Jerusalem was not enough on 30 July, when a man in ultra-Orthodox garb stormed the Gay Pride parade in the city centre and stabbed six people.

One of them, 16-year-old Shira Banki, later died of her wounds.

The attack drew widespread condemnation, but police have faced questions over how the suspect arrested immediately after the attack, Yishai Shlissel, was allowed anywhere near the event.

He had been released from prison only three weeks earlier after serving a 10-year sentence for a similar attack.

And before last week’s stabbings, he had written a letter denouncing the “abomination” of a Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem.

Police have formed a committee to look into why Shlissel was not stopped. He has remained defiant, lashing out at the court after his arrest, saying he does not accept its authority.

Mideast Israel Gay Pride Attack Ultra-Orthodox Jew Yishai Schlissel is detained by plain-clothes police officers after the attack Source: Sebastian Scheiner/AP/Press Association Images

‘Morale is broken’ 

At the Jerusalem Open House, a support centre for the LGBT community, the entrance is kept shut and locked, a code needed for entry.

Inside on Monday, several young people were busy making banners ahead of a vigil for Banki.

“Our community’s morale is broken,” said Open House president Dana Sharon.

“Since Thursday, we have welcomed dozens of people who were shocked, depressed and terribly anxious.”

Sharon said she was convinced that the attack, the second in the past decade, would not be the last.

“Things were going better for the last several years,” she said.

“We were receiving fewer threats and recent Gay Prides were going well. We should not have celebrated so quickly.”

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Nadav, who helped found Havruta, an association that assists religious Jews who are homosexual, said that “in Tel Aviv, we march to celebrate what we’ve obtained. In Jerusalem, we march to demand what we must obtain”.

Mideast Israel Members and supporters of the Israeli LGBT community call for an end to violence Source: Tsafrir Abayov/AP/Press Association Images

In a separate incident hours after Thursday’s stabbings, suspected Jewish settlers firebombed a Palestinian home in the West Bank, killing an 18-month-old child and critically wounding his parents and four-year-old brother.

The two incidents have led to pressure on Israel to crack down on Jewish extremists, and Nadav worried that the country was beginning to see an increase in zealot-like behaviour.

“He did what he did because he knows that most of the people from his community support, if not the form of his act, at least its homophobic character,” he said of the Gay Pride attacker.

While Israel is considered progressive when it comes to homosexual rights – same-sex couples are allowed to adopt, for example – Nadav said public attitudes were a different story.

“Public opinion has not kept up with those changes. Maybe in terms of rights… we are here,” he said, raising his arm in the air.

“But for the average Israeli, we homosexuals are right down here,” he said, lowering it again.

 © AFP 2015

Read: This man stabbed six people at a gay pride event in Jerusalem >

Read: ‘Holy Land’ tour brochure banned after Palestine border dispute >

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