Israeli police detained an Orthodox Jewish man carrying a small homemade bomb in Jerusalem on Thursday, as thousands of Israelis marched in support of gay rights in defiance of religious protesters.
“Police stopped a 32-year-old religious Jew who was carrying a homemade explosive device,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said of the arrest before the annual Gay Pride march began.
About 7,000 police officers had deployed inside and around Jerusalem to protect the marchers—about 2,000 of them by police estimates—after threats from religious Jews, who take exception to the event being held in a city they hold sacred.
At a separate event some streets away, blocked behind police barriers, religious Jewish men in traditional black and white garb held a separate rally, intoning prayers against the march.
One man evaded police to approach marchers yelling: “Filth! Get out of Jerusalem!”. He was escorted away by police.
In 2005, an Orthodox Jew stabbed and wounded three marchers and fears of violence caused a march to be cancelled last year.
Among those walking the route under rainbow banners and balloons close to Jerusalem’s Old City, Judy Enteen, a mother from Jerusalem, held aloft a sign that read: “My gay son is a gift from God.”
“I want people to know that being gay is a gift,” she said.
Deep divide over parade
Disputes over whether to hold the parade in the city have showcased one of many divides in Israeli society and raised questions about how to ensure the religious nature of Jerusalem, sacred to three major religions, is not compromised.
Many devout Jews, Muslims and Christians view homosexuality as an abomination. Most Jewish residents of Jerusalem are religious. A similar Gay Pride march in Israel’s secular metropolis Tel Aviv passed without incident earlier this month.
Noa Satat, chairwoman of Open House, the organization which fought a series of court challenges for the right to demonstrate, told Reuters: “We are thrilled to be here today, celebrating our freedom of speech in the center of Jerusalem.”
A rally planned to take place at the end of the parade was cancelled, however, following a dispute between the organizers and the Jerusalem city authorities.
Police have arrested more than 130 ultra-Orthodox Jews in recent days after learning of plots to disrupt the march and during protests in Jerusalem and religious Jewish towns, where officers used water cannon to battle stone-throwing protesters.