Pride Event in Southern Israel Draws Hundreds After Police Lift Restrictions

'The fact they were trying to make us bow our heads and tell us where to march was really important to me,' says one of the organizers who also petitioned against Israel Police decision to reroute the march out of fears of public disorder

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People attend the Pride march in Mitzpeh Ramon on Friday.
People attend the Pride march in Mitzpeh Ramon on Friday.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Hundreds marched through the southern community of Mitzpeh Ramon in the town's second ever Pride Parade, days after the police have backtracked on its intention to reroute the march in response to a petition to the High Court of Justice by the event’s organizers.

The police initially approved an alternative route that did no pass through the city’s center as planned in the parade’s original route because it passed near a local yeshiva, citing fears of public disorder. Along the original route on Friday plaques were reading "there's no pride in ruining the family."

Meanwhile, hundreds, including the council head, demonstrated against the march near the Eden Yeshiva, under heavy police presence after a Mitzpe Ramon resident was arrested for threatening organizers of the event. Rabbi Tzvi Kostiner, who runs the yeshiva, spoke at the rally, which was held under the slogan "there's no pride in destroying the family."

“The fact they were trying to make us bow our heads and tell us where to march was really important to me,” Michal Romi, one of the organizers told Haaretz on Friday. “These 200 meters are very significant because they make a major statement," Romi, who petitioned against the police decision, explained adding that forcing the march to the outskirts of town would only marginalize LGBTQ people more.

On Thursday, the head of the local Yeshiva Rabbi Tzvi Kostiner wrote to his community: “With the help of God we will gather, dignified and calm for a demonstration supporting family values and tradition and to protest the attempt to attack and dismantle these values.”

The rabbi was reportedly asked by the local police precinct to assume responsibility for his people ahead of the march. The rabbi declined the request, telling the precinct's commander: “You should fear God, not me.”

Nevertheless, in his letter to the community the Rabbi wrote that the struggle he is trying to lead is about opinions and is not a personal attack on anyone. "We are brothers! Don’t be dragged in by provocations and not even into any verbal confrontations," the Rabbi wrote, "We shall continue our way, of faith and love, and we will quickly merit total and speedy redemption in our time.”

Ben Stern, a Mitzpeh Ramon resident, came to the march with his two children. “It’s a tough situation in many aspects. Kids are going to kindergarten and parents are divided between camps, and there’s a lot of talk in the air that doesn’t do anyone any good,” he said. “At the end of the day we came to talk, but it caused a bad feeling of division." Stern had hoped that by coming to the march he could teach his children to stand up for their rights. He did note, however, that most of the yeshiva students are fine and only a few are extremists. “The police want to make the yeshiva out to be an enemy because of internet comments,” he said. “They’re not enemies. If someone wrote something, then arrest him.”

Meanwhile, in the city of Modi’in a Pride event was held behind high fabric-covered fences to prevent passers-by from seeing it, by order of the police. Even though the event was sponsored by the municipality of Modi’in, the police demanded the fences be put up to obscure the view, citing security concerns.

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