Pictured: A huge crowd showed up in Haifa, Israel, Aug. 8 to protest the recent shootings in Tel Aviv. A protester carries a sign that reads "Thou shalt not murder" during the rally. Photos by Dorit Jordan Dotan
There were no flashy drag queens, no thumping club music, no bump and grind. But barely six weeks after Tel Aviv's boisterous annual Pride Parade, a crowd of tens of thousands strong that gathered Aug. 8 in Rabin's Square in Tel Aviv showed a different kind of pridethat of a strong gay community, and their straight supporters and families, coming together to pay their respects to 13 young people gunned down Aug. 1.
Nir Katz, 26, a group counselor for the gay youth club, and club member Liz Trobishi, 17, were killed, and 11 others were wounded. Four are still in critical condition in Israeli hospitals. The masked gunman, who entered the basement room during the weekly meeting of the youth club, sprayed the room with automatic fire, and fled. Police have few leads in discovering his identity or current whereabouts.
The speakers were united in their condemnation of the killings. Representatives of the government were numerous, and all of them said the "right things." They spoke about combating homophobia in the school system, in the family law system, in the military. Even elder statesman President Shimon Peres spoke, saying that the gun that had been pointed at those teenagers in the basement had also been aimed at all of us; a rare, clear message of support for equality at the highest levels of the Israeli government.
But here, as everywhere, the personal is always very political. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, former Knesset member Yael Dayan, and out Knesset member Nitzan Horowitz openly deplored the more hidden aspects of Israeli homophobia and xenophobiain the State's don't-rock-the-boat attitude towards Israeli Arabs and refugees, as well as the institutionalized discrimination against gays found lurking in the dark corners of state policies and culturally acceptable practices. Issues of civil marriage ( not allowed under Israeli law ) , residency committees which exclude gay families, and the constant stream of hateful vitriol against all non-heterosexuals from powerful fundamentalist religious legislators all came under fire. There were forceful demands to end to the constant stream of public incitement from both the fundamental religionists of all faiths, and their hard-line secular counterparts who use their media powers to vilify and curse their gay fellow citizens as vermin, perverts and deserving death.Read more story below....
The hastily organized demonstration also boasted a long list of Israel's most well-loved musicians who openly support the gay community, and some of whom are no less known for speaking out against homophobia and institutionalized discrimination within Israel. Sharon Ben Ezer ( aka Pollyanna Franks ) pulled no punches as she compared the unexpected killing of gays and such massive, public reactions as tonight's demonstration to the daily and much less remarked-upon deaths of residents of Ramlah and Gaza.
Chen Langer, a co-counselor of the group along with Katz, spoke from his wheelchair. He wept as he described this past week as "a bad week for compassion." He described crawling wounded from body to body, and having to decide who among this close-knit group was alive and who was beyond help. Ori Gil, a teenager wounded in the shooting, exhorted his age-mates to come out of the closet at any cost, as the price of silent hiding is far higher to both them as individuals and to society as a whole.
One week after this vicious killing spree, the chatter and conversations overheard make one thing clear: there are many who doubt that Saturday's massacre was a "real" hate crime. Perhaps it was a lover's fight that got out of control. Perhaps it was just some crazy guy, it wasn't really against gay people. Maybe it was an Arab who wanted to kill Jews and the youth club's entrance wasn't guarded like other public venues. Maybe, perhaps, it could be something else ... anything but a homophobic hate crime.
But a hard, brutally honest look in Israeli society's mirror belies these querulous attempts at wishful thinking. Someone nameless, faceless and still out there, free and anonymous, went into a gay support group and turned an automatic weapon on gay teenagers and the gay adults who cared for them. The not-so-hidden homophobic voices of half the population are no louder, nor more silent, than before August 1st. As moderator Gal Ochovsky noted Saturday, "Everything has changed. Nothing has changed." Bubbles of tolerance in mostly secular, affluent, urban communities easily give a sense of security and equality. Israel has more progressive laws on any number of gay rights issues than the US, and legally, at least, gay citizens can usually count on basic democratic principles overruling the theocracy's choke-hold on private lives. But when push comes to shove, shoving turns to triggers, and the bubble implodes in violence and death. In politics and religion, this is the fundamental, tragic social assumption: the Other is a dangerous, visceral threat, and if the Other would only go away, We could live in peace.
Rabin Square ( named for Prime Minister Itzchak Rabin, assassinated there by a right-wing fundamentalist zealot in 1994 for daring to discuss peace with Israel's enemies ) has seen its share of mourning. The many thousands present Saturday night demanded more than commemoration, however. The signs they carried declared "Thou Shalt Not Murder" and "We Have Come to Banish the Darkness." The storm cloud of homophobia welled up from within Israeli society itself, not just from the evil heart of a lone madman. As Peres said, that rifle was aimed at all of us, enveloping us all in darkness, and the only way to banish it will have to come from within, as well.