By Sahar Vardi
10 years ago I went to my first pride parade in Jerusalem. I was a 15 year old girl, still figuring out my own identity, still figuring out what my community was, but very much clear on the fact that I should be there. Half way through the parade I remember the ambulances and police rushing through, the confusion among us, and eventually the understanding that three people were stabbed in a homophobic attack.
Last Thursday I joined my 10th pride parade in Jerusalem. My 15 year old sister joined me, reminding me of my first pride when I was her age. And then the policemen started running, the ambulances tried to drive through the confused crowd one after the other. It didn’t take us any time to understand what happened – this time it seemed we all knew. 6 people were stabbed by the same man who committed the first attack. The victims included a 16 year old girl who even went to the same school as I did. Three days later she died of her wounds.
10 years ago we marched up Ben Yehuda street, the main shopping street in city center Jerusalem, that was crowded by a mixture of protestors and by standers. After the stabbing the police never allowed the march to go through city center again, creating a “sterile” environment around it every year. Not to be attacked, but not to be seen or heard either.
Last Thursday, after news of the stabbing started sinking through, we decided to go back to city center. No police protection and conditions, no separation between us and the often racist and homophobic Jerusalem streets. This was the night that we marched up Ben Yehuda again after 10 years. It was a healing process for everyone who came. From 30 people, we became a hundred and then 200 and 500, reclaiming the streets of our city with what seemed like the right balance between rage and compassion, between protest and healing.
A family burned alive. A baby, only a year and a half old was burned to death; both his parents and 4 year old brother are still hospitalized fighting for their lives. That was the news the following morning, after Israeli extremists burned down 2 Palestinian houses in the West Bank village of Duma.
Condemnations of both terrible attacks dominated the press and social media. From Left parties to the extreme Right, everyone was sure to condemn, and seek their place in the growing speakers list for a rally in Tel Aviv – a rally that was planned in advance in memory of 2 people who were killed 6 years ago to the day in an attack on the LGBTQ youth center in Tel Aviv. A representative of the Likud party, the same party that time after time has actively worked against legislative attempts to promote LGBTQ equality, the same party that has been in government and is responsible for the killing of over 500 Palestinian children last summer in Gaza – came to speak against homophobic and racist attacks. Even Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home Party asked to speak. The party of a Member of Knesset who helped organize the main protests against the Pride Parade, and another Member of Knesset who once said, “A Jew always has a much higher soul than a gentile, even if he is a homosexual. Bennett was not allowed on stage because he refused to sign a pledge to promote LGBTQ equality. The absurdity would have been amusing if it weren’t so tragic.
These two tragedies could have been an opportunity (a terrible one, and yet). They could have been an opportunity for Israeli society to see the connection between homophobic and racist hate crimes. They could have been an opportunity for Israeli society to understand the consequences of incitement, of the racist discourse that is becoming more and more legitimate, of the public and governmental attempts to de-legitimize specific groups and the consequences of that. They could have been an opportunity to for Israeli society to understand that when we raise our children to implement an occupation, when we raise them to see some people as less equal than others, some blood cheaper than other, we shouldn’t be surprised when people act upon this hate.
I am still hopeful that we might learn a bit of the first two lessons, that people will be able to see the connections between hate crimes and hate crimes, and that the understanding that words can kill will be more than a slogan. But both these realizations will fail to bring about any real change, and will never be sustainable, as long as we ignore the last lesson we must learn: A society cannot be tolerant, cannot uproot violence and hate from its midst, as long as it maintains an occupation.
Sahar Vardi is a Jerusalem-based activist primarily in the anti-occupation and anti-militarist movements.