The High Court of Justice denied a petition Wednesday against a police decision to divert a gay pride parade in Be'er Sheva from the city's main thoroughfare.
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In their ruling, the justices wrote that they were convinced that intelligence reports on potential violence at the parade presented to them by the police justified at least a partial diversion of the parade from the Negev city's Rager Boulevard.
The intelligence information was provided on an ex parte basis, meaning that it was not given to the petitioners' representatives. Justice Melcer said the information was serious in nature and noted that there had been even calls by opponents of the parade and those potentially attending the event to carried arms. The petitioners rejected a compromise proposed by the court that would have allowed one segment of the parade route to include Rager Boulevard.
The petition was filed by Be’er Sheva’s Pride House and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel challenging the decision by the police to divert the route from the Negev city's main street, Rager Boulevard, at least in part due to threats.
Reacting to the court's decision, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said in part: "In 2016, it is not logical to relegate the gay community to a pride parade on a side route and not on the city's main streets." This is particularly true in Be'er Sheva, where the parade is being organized for the first time, the group stated. "In our view, if there are threats, the police need to deal with them, whether on side streets or main streets," the organization said.
Responding to the petition, police said they decided to divert the parade from the main road not only due to concerns about the participants' safety, but also because the event could "deeply hurt religious sentiments" in light of the numerous religious institutions in the area. Other considerations included disruption to traffic and the restriction of access to Soroka Medical Center. The commander of the local police station, Cmdr. Effi Shiman, refused to give details about the threats other than to say they “spoke of serious harm to human life.” Smadar Bonen, a lawyer representing Pride House, told the high court panel – Justices Melcer, Salim Joubran and Anat Baron, that the gay community cannot be relegated to side streets, saying that the suggestion had provoked "hard feelings" in the LGBT community.
At the hearing, Justice Hanan Melcer said potential threats to the safety of participants in the event, which is slated for Thursday, are a reason to step up security, implying that the police should not surrender to the threats. Melcer suggested that the police abide by the parade organizers' request regarding the route but limit the event with respect to its duration.
Avinoam Segal-Elad, a lawyer representing the police, said traffic is never barred from Rager Boulevard for events other than on Independence Day and that the intelligence information about threats to the marchers was specific rather than more general. When Melcer pressed him over whether the street had been closed to traffic when the city celebrated the Hapoel Be'er Sheva soccer team's national soccer championship earlier this year, Segal-Elad said 100,000 people showed up to celebrate the team's victory.
For her part, Justice Baron said she didn't have the impression that the police response was the result of "emphasis on security considerations."
At this point, there is no information indicating that arrests have been made as a result of the intelligence material pertaining to the threats. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Shiman, the commander of the Be'er Sheva police district, said he could not respond regarding arrests, but said that wide-ranging intelligence operations were being carried out.
Although the petitioners had submitted their request to conduct the march on Rager Boulevard in May, it was only on Sunday evening that the police informed Pride House that, following a security assessment by the police district, the route would not be approved.
The petition describes a meeting in April between Bonen, representing Pride House, and Tzvika Cohen, an aide to Be’er Sheva Mayor Ruvik Danilovich. According to the petition, Cohen told Bonen: “In Be’er Sheva we don’t march,” suggested holding the event at a closed venue. “This isn’t Tel Aviv,” Cohen said, according to the petition.
The petition also asserts that gay pride parades are "an inseparable and necessary part of the freedom to demonstrate" and that such events have become more common beyond the country's main cities.
The Tel Aviv Gay Pride parade is the country's largest, this year attracting an estimated 200,000 people. Last month Yishai Schlissel was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Shira Banki while she was marching in the 2015 gay pride parade in Jerusalem.