December 3rd, 2009 20:54 EST
More 10 Percent of Israelis are Gay
The recent brutal attack on the gay community in Tel Aviv, believed to be the most pluralistic of all Israeli cities, has shocked the nation`s queer community.
On August 1, gay and lesbian teenagers had gathered at their weekly support group in the basement of the city`s Gay and Lesbian Association building, playing the card game `Taki`. That night there were no winners. Around 11 pm, a black-clad, masked gunman stormed into the centre and ruthlessly opened fire in all directions. The gunman shot dead two people and wounded 10 others in his attack before fleeing the scene. The murderer is still at large, and his identity remains unknown.
The association where the murders took place was founded 15 years ago. It seeks to provide support for young gays still in the closet and aimed to give them a place of refuge, sharing and counseling in order to gain the courage to come out in the open and acknowledge their sexual status.
The victims were Nir Katz, 26, and Liz Trubeshi, 16. Katz had served as a counselor at the centre for the past three years and lived with his partner of four years. "Nir always had a smile on his face and endless love for every living creature... He always had respect for himself, his life and those around him," said his mother in her eulogy to her son.
Liz Trubeshi`s family and friends said that she was straight but visited the centre to show her support. "She was one of the most charming people I knew... She loved to write. She was very creative," a friend said of her. Her brother said in his eulogy, "You were always our princess. I can`t say goodbye. I never told you how much I love you."
The day after the attack saw many in Israel in a state of shock, appalled at the gunman`s attempt to stamp out all pluralism. "Sadly, it was certainly not the first homophobic attack we have encountered," said Itzik Tzaror, the Israeli LGBT association`s spokesman. "Eighty per cent of gay teens have been subject to verbal abuse due to their sexual orientation and about half of them have suffered some sort of physical and/or sexual abuse."
This incident in Tel Aviv`s gay shelter lengthens the long list of anti-gay attacks in the country. Only two years ago, in November 2006, about a dozen people were injured in a show of force aimed at pressuring authorities into cancelling a gay pride parade that was to be held in Jerusalem. The disruption was organised by more than 2,000 members of the Haredi community (the radical religious sect), who jammed the streets in the Orthodox neighbourhoods of Jerusalem. "`Homosexal` is a common insult at schools these days," claims Tzaror,"...yet, no one expected a murder!"
But that`s not where the prejudice ends. Many Israeli government officials entertain anti-gay notions. It was only last year that Shlomo Benizri, a Knesset member and minister, blamed the earthquakes that had struck the Middle East recently on the activities of homosexuals. He recommended that instead of merely reinforcing buildings to withstand earthquakes, the government should pass legislation to outlaw homosexuality!
Studies show that at least 10 per cent of Israelis are gay. This numbers approximately 700,000 people. The bulk of this community is concentrated in Tel Aviv, considered the most modern and open city in Israel. Today, the country`s left wing parties support gay rights and encourage their activities; Israel has an active gay community, with well-attended annual gay pride festivals held in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem since 1998. Tel Aviv also provides special services to the community, such as cafes, clubs, restaurants and bars.
Israel is considered the country most tolerant to LGBT rights in the Middle East. It is the only one in the region and in all of Asia to recognise same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. It does not, however, allow same-sex couples to marry on Israeli soil.
Tzaror points to a phenomenon in Israel that reflects a contradiction of sorts. Even though the population is composed of many different minorities, and thus there isn`t really an actual majority here, racism prevails. A week after the abominable deed against the gay community, a large support rally was held at Rabin Square in the capital city, honouring the victims. But threats of violence marked this event as well, as the bus organisers received intimidating telephone calls.
Among the over 70,000 attendees, there were representatives of the government. President Shimon Peres delivered a speech, declaring that every person has the freedom to be who he or she is. He concluded his speech saying, "The gunshots that hit the gay community earlier this week hit us all. As people. As Jews. As Israelis. The person who pointed the gun at Nir Katz and Liz Trubeshi pointed it at all of you as well, at all of us, at you, at me. There can be no gunmen within us."
Whether his words reassured those fighting for gay and lesbian rights in Israel, is difficult to say. However they maintain that they will continue fighting for equal rights "until there is no more fear in our lives."
(© Women`s Feature Service)