Six years have passed, and one question does not give rest. Why? Why was the late Shira Banki, a kind-hearted, beloved, and talented girl, murdered when she marched that evening in Jerusalem to support her friends’ struggle? On the face of it, the answer is simple. Negligence. Fanaticism. Senseless Hatred.
All the answers are correct, but the story is more extensive. The duty to tell it as it is is not only the duty to honor the memory of the Shira Z’l. It is also the duty not to be content with mere announcements – to boldly act in order to prevent the next murder. In Israel, where every 3 hours an LGBTphobic hate incident is reported [and many aren’t reported], where only last Pride month marchers were violently attacked at the Pride Parade in Ariel and near the marches in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, dozens of suspects were arrested, some armed, on suspicion of plotting to cause harm to the thousands gathered – this is real and tangible fear.
This is a story of a failure. The police failure is the most prominent in a chain of failures that no systematic and comprehensive policy has been planned to address to date. The police are a good place to start. Brave, underpaid police officers do sacred work but usually do not receive proper training regarding LGBT individuals. Thus, violent incidents against LGBT families in the neighborhood are typically defined as “neighbors’ conflict” and are often treated disparagingly, with no remedial action. Thus, the police look away from daily violence against LGBT people in the Arab sector, and many young men and women are forced to flee to other cities and even abroad from family terror.
This is a story about an education system that grants a matriculation certificate without making sure that each student indeed has the maturity to deal with differences – will it be LGBT, ultra-Orthodox, persons with disabilities, Arab, Ethiopian, etc. A story of a system that settles for slogans like “the other is me” instead of bravely tackling a complex issue, which can sometimes lead to conflict. It currently has almost no educational content about the LGBT public in history classes, citizenship, or literature. The result is not long in coming. When the “other” is an unknown, fear flourishes. Sometimes fear becomes hatred. When hate reaches a definite high, some wave a knife.
A story about a polarized political atmosphere in which even a trivial decision, such as guaranteeing compensation to victims of hate crimes (of any kind), so that they do not have to deal alone with the costs of rehabilitation and treatment – is repeatedly stopped in light of “political difficulties.” A story about more than 15,000 Government Resolutions made in the last two decades – and none of them condemns LGBTphobia, let alone directing action and budgets to tackle it. More than ten percent of the public, utterly Invisible to the political leadership for generations.
Israeli society is good for LGBT people. Most Israelis respect every person regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. It is so natural in a community with so many sectors with incredible human diversity. On the other hand, our leadership fails to meet the fundamental obligation to uphold what is stated in the Declaration of Independence – to ensure that we can be a free people in our country, even if we love differently or with different gender identity. To ensure that a 15-year-old girl who is going to demonstrate for a better society will return home safely to her parents. To ensure the zealots will be dealt with, back to their natural size – not be allowed to raise their ugly heads.
Our leadership – from the Prime Minister and the Ministers, through senior members of the public sector and in cooperation with the religious, business, and social leadership in Israel – has the responsibility to gather accurate data on aspects of the phenomenon, formulate possible solutions with all parties and implement effective plans. The public also has a duty: not to be silent about hatred and violence in the immediate environment, at work, in the neighborhood, at school, in the army. Make a voice and demand that our elected representatives meet the task. Not to succumb to complacency or cynicism, to be convinced that “do not want” means “impossible.” Israel can face the challenge and boldly win.
Six years ago, it was Shira z’l who paid the price of hatred. No steps taken will bring her back, nor will they cure the pain her family & friends feel. But if we act now – in education, law enforcement, and all public systems – we will create a reality where there will be no more victims of blind hatred. Words will not suffice. Only with determined action can we build a safer and more tolerant Israeli society. Only in deeds that genuinely aim to change reality will we honor the memory of the late Shira.
Eran Globus is a former Chairperson of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance and a social change policy and strategy consultant. He was one of the parade organizers in which the late Shira was murdered, and six others wounded.