Thousands of people marched through central Jerusalem under heavy security on Thursday in the city’s 16th annual pride parade.
Some 22,000 people took part in the parade according to police estimates, under the watchful eye of 1,000 police and border patrol soldiers.
The annual march was the scene of a deadly attack two years ago, and often draws protests from the far-right and ultra-Orthodox community.
Police said that 12 people had been detained for questioning. They were suspected of “intent to disrupt and cause harm during the event. One of them was found in possession of a knife,” police said in a tweet.
Jerusalem Gay Pride parade: Police detained 12 people suspected of trying to interrupt the march. One of the suspects had a knife – Police pic.twitter.com/iQ2XuHsWBO
— Michael Shuval (@MichaelShuval) August 3, 2017
Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh was at the parade to oversee the heavy security measures, which included cameras and aerial surveillance.
Roads were closed across the center of the city and police were closely controlling access to certain streets along the 1.4 kilometer parade route, from the Liberty Bell Park to Independence Park
Marching past the spot where Shira Banki was stabbed to death in 2015, marchers stopped to lay flowers and hold a moment of silence.
Nearby, some 50 protesters from the far-right Lehava organization held a counter-demonstration, surrounded by a tight police cordon.
The theme of this year’s March for Pride and Tolerance was “LGBTQ and Religion.”
Sara Kala-Meir, who runs the Jerusalem Open House, told the Ynet news website that the theme was an important issue for members of the LGBTQ community in Jerusalem, where religious sensitivities sometimes lead to a lack of tolerance.
“Members of the community still suffer from discrimination and degrading treatment mainly due to lack of knowledge and preconceived notions,” she said. “The central theme we chose for this year’s march burns in the hearts of the members of the community of this city and speaks to a wide audience of those who suffered and continue to suffer from insensitivity and degradation because of their sexual orientation.”
Orthodox Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz, a city council member, told The Times of Israel he felt it was important for him to join the parade to show another side of Orthodoxy.
“Unfortunately the face of Orthodoxy that people see in Jerusalem is an extremist face, a fundamentalist face, and a face which interprets particular verses in the Torah as broad license to be aggressive and violent toward large communities,” he said. “To my mind the Torah says many other things as well, including ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
Liebowitz said that although “there may be, in my mind, a black and white kernel” of prohibition, “but here we are talking about peoples’ lives.”
He stressed that he came to show that there were many other themes and values in the Torah “in terms of how we orientate ourselves to the world.”
Banki, 16, was stabbed to death by Yishai Schlissel, who had just been released from prison for carrying out a stabbing attack 10 years earlier. He is serving a life sentence in prison.
At the entrance to the city another small group of some 50 protesters, headed by Rabbi Tzvi Tau, head of Jerusalem’s Har Hamor yeshiva and a leading figure in the nationalist-religious community, held up placards against the parade.
The parade began at Liberty Bell Park and began marching at 6 p.m., heading up Keren Hayesod and King George streets, before turning onto Meir Shaham, Rabbi Akiva and Hillel streets, and congregating at Independence Park for a closing event at 8 p.m.
Elie Leshem contributed to this report.