One man in group allegedly attacked by angry Muslims
David Sheen, an activist from Oakland whose shirt reads, "My God is a lesbian," was arrested in Jerusalem before a gay pride rally. Photo by David Blumenfeld, special to the Chronicle
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Page A - 3
Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service
Jerusalem -- A group of gay Palestinian Americans canceled a planned pride march in East Jerusalem on Friday after one of them was beaten unconscious by a local man who said he was from the Waqf Muslim religious authority.
The beating incident occurred on the same day an Israeli gay pride rally went ahead as scheduled, though without a planned march through city streets. The march had been called off after threats by religious and right-wing opponents to mount huge counterdemonstrations. Only minor violence marred the event.
East Jerusalem was close to total lockdown Friday -- a combination of a three-day general strike called in mourning for the deaths in the Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun on Wednesday, and the resulting Israeli security alert to prevent retaliatory suicide attacks.
Israeli security officials said they had more than 80 specific intelligence warnings of planned terror attacks against Israeli targets and raised the alert level to Daled or "D," the highest. Israeli police clamped a total closure on the West Bank, preventing all Palestinians from entering Israel except those living in East Jerusalem.
In the East Jerusalem beating, two men -- one wielding a knife -- came looking for the group of gay Palestinian Americans who were staying at the Faisal Hostel near the Damascus Gate of the Old City. One of the assailants identified himself as being from the Waqf, the clerical trust that administers Muslim religious sites in the city.
"I'm pretty terrified right now," said Daoud, an MBA student from Detroit who declined to give his full name. "We left the hostel immediately, but when my friend went back to collect some things, they were waiting for him. They asked if he was with 'the homos' and then started beating him."
He said the victim, from Chicago, was badly beaten, knocked down a flight of stairs and left unconscious. The man, whose name was withheld for his safety, was taken to the El-Mokassed Hospital in East Jerusalem for treatment.
"It was very scary. These two guys came in and said they had heard we were planning to march. They drew a knife and said if we marched they would cut our heads off. They sounded like they meant it," he said.
Daoud said nine gay Palestinian Americans had come to Jerusalem to join the pride march. "Maybe I was just being naive. I heard about the pride rally, and I thought it would be nice for us to do something together as a gay community," he said. "We got a different kind of reception instead."
In America, he said, "you have some tolerance and appreciation and understanding of what it means to be gay and to be a Palestinian. We're discovering the hard way it's not so acceptable here."
Rotem Biran, 25, a hotel sales executive from Tel Aviv, said she was disappointed not to be able to march with the Palestinians from East Jerusalem. But by the time she arrived at the Faisal Hostel, Daoud and his friends had disappeared.
"Gay Palestinians are really afraid," she said. "It's not the same as being Jewish and gay. For them, it's dangerous. They can't really do anything openly in their own community because it's so strict, so they come all the way to Tel Aviv to be with other gay people."
Friday's rally, held at the Hebrew University sports stadium, was a low-key affair that passed off largely peacefully. More than 2,000 participants were protected by about 3,000 police officers. One ultra-Orthodox protester who managed to sneak into the event was arrested after he jumped onstage and began screaming anti-gay slogans.
Across town, California-born David Sheen, a founder of the East Bay City Repair project in Oakland, was one of 30 gay activists who were arrested after trying to march to the stadium where the rally was being held. Sheen, 32, wore a pink shirt bearing the words "My God is a lesbian," in Hebrew.
Sheen, who describes himself as an "eco-freako," now lives in southern Israel and builds houses from earth. He said it was important for gay people in Israel to rally and speak out "because we're beautiful. And because we live here, and these are our streets."
Noam Federman, an anti-gay religious activist, warned people not to touch the marchers for fear of catching AIDS and held a banner denouncing their "abomination." Five people with him were arrested after they were found carrying brass knuckles, knives and sticks.
"We want to prevent the gays from marching inside Jerusalem," said Federman. "Jerusalem is a holy city to the Jewish people. We waited 2,000 years to get the privilege of having Jerusalem in our hands -- not to desecrate the city."
Ultra-Orthodox rabbis, the Vatican and Muslim officials had all spoken out this week against the gay march through the streets of Jerusalem, a city holy to all three religions. Ultra-Orthodox Jews had staged rowdy protests all week and threatened violence if the march went ahead.