JERUSALEM (AFP) — About 2,000 people took part in an annual Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem on Thursday which passed off without major incident even though it had been the focus of violent controversy in the past.
Surrounded by about the same number of police, the marchers set off for the kilometre-long (half-mile) parade in central Jerusalem, holding aloft rainbow banners.
"We want this parade to go ahead without violence," said Yonathan Leibowicz, of the Jerusalem Open House organisation which organised the event.
"We reached an agreement with religious authorities to have a low-key demonstration so as not to shock people," he said.
At a counter-protest in one of Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods several hundred men gathered wearing ash on their foreheads and burlap sacks over their black suits in a Biblical ritual of repentance.
Some demonstrators held holy books, rocked back and forth and prayed, while others raised banners in English reading "Shame," "The Supreme Court is destroying the Holy City" and "Don't sodomise Jerusalem."
The leader of the defiantly secular Meretz party, Haim Oron, joined the parade. "I came to support the demonstrators and to associate myself with their aims -- their struggle is not just about the gay community, it's about having a pluralist society in Israel," he said.
Security forces were out in force but kept a discreet presence on the edge of the parade.
Israel's Supreme Court earlier this week rejected a petition by a group of hardline Jewish activists who wanted the parade banned and said it was a "provocation" to hold it in the deeply religious city.
In 2005, an ultra-Orthodox Jew stabbed three participants and was subsequently sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The following year the venue was switched to a sports stadium following violent protests by ultra-Orthodox Jews and rightwing opponents who consider the event "a profanity" of the Holy City.
"The violence and intimidation surrounding Pride 2005 and 2006 only serves as proof that we must assure that our rights as citizens of Jerusalem are defended," Open House said in a statement.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »