On August 1, 2009, a masked man walked into the Bar Noar, a small meeting place for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teenagers, and opened fire, killing two. The shooting rattled a community that had come to see itself as fully integrated and immune to such hate – at least in Tel Aviv.
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The incident was seen as an attack on the community as a whole and became a defining moment in the Israeli LGBT community, a warning that its place in society was not as safe as many believed.
Now, on the eve of Tel Aviv Pride, new revelations this week may challenge that narrative. Three suspects were arrested on Wednesday and a fourth, who is allegedly an activist in the LGBT community, was arrested on Thursday. Police now say they are ruling out the possibility of a hate crime and that the motivation instead appears to be personal. It is a shocking twist that potentially undermines the symbolism that the Israeli LGBT community has given the tragedy.
In the aftermath of the shooting, the stunned community rallied, and public figures reached out. A week after the shooting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the site of the attack and spoke out against hate, an important gesture from the head of a government coalition whose members had at times been vocal in their opposition to gay rights.
That night, an estimated 20,000 people gathered at a rally in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square where President Shimon Peres voiced his solidarity and a number of popular singers performed. Events were held in Jerusalem and Haifa, as well as in communities around the world.
Israel, in the past decade, has been celebrated for its progressive LGBT rights, and Tel Aviv was supposed to be the ultimate safe haven. But with the shooting, the bubble burst.
For the past four years, with the shooter still at large and no clues as to the motivation, the incident has been a dark cloud obscuring an otherwise vibrant rainbow, a lingering nightmare hovering over all the dreams come true – like increased marriage and adoption rights, and an explosion in international gay tourism. It's been the asterisk to an otherwise celebrated city, the qualification tacked on to every statement of Tel Aviv as a gay paradise, the "yes, but"
The shooting has also become a rallying cry for the Israeli LGBT community. In many ways, it mobilized a community that some felt had become too comfortable and complacent. With the assumption being that the crime was a targeted attack, motivated by hate, the community came together, found a stronger, collective voice, and went on the offensive.
Those in the younger generation, who had not struggled for rights and visibility, who had come to see their gay identity as primarily a social one, suddenly saw that it was political too. Previously closeted celebrities came out; average citizens who had dismissed the community as frivolous found themselves touched by the loss of the two teenagers. Hearts were opened. The incident was scary and sobering, but also a catalyst.
There is still much to learn about what has been discovered this week, and a good deal of information is still under a gag order. Yet if it does turn out that the shooting was not a hate crime, or at least not an indiscriminate attack on the LGBT community as a whole, it raises questions about how the community will continue to consider and commemorate the incident.
Whatever is revealed will not minimize the death of Nir Katz and Liz Trubeshi, who were killed in the shooting. The community will not abandon their memory, regardless of what new information comes to light.
Yet what is a community to do when such a defining event is suddenly revealed to be something different than what it seemed? Will the community hold onto its symbolism as fiercely? Or will it lose some of its power if it turns out that the shooting is an isolated incident?
After four years of accepting the narrative of a hate crime, the Israeli LGBT community will now have to reconcile the changing meaning of a tragedy that, in some ways, also brought them together and pushed its issues forward.
The Bar Noar shooting will continue to be a dark and heartbreaking stain on the Israeli LGBT community's march forward, and its victims must not be forgotten. But after this week's revelations, the story is not the same as it was yesterday and the community will be forced to reconsider what it means today.