TEL AVIV, Israel — Ripped men in white underwear, pink bunny ears and black bow ties gyrated through the streets of Israel's Tel Aviv on Friday along with drag queens and others to loud trance music for the annual Gay Pride Parade — the biggest event of its kind in the region.
The Tel Aviv Municipality said over 250,000 people celebrated at the city's 20th Gay Pride Parade, an event that draws people from around the world to party.
Cordelia Lange, from Germany, said Tel Aviv is "a very vibrant city, it's a city that embraces everything connected to gays, lesbians and LGBT and I think it's a combination of city at the beach and good vibes."
The good times in Tel Aviv contrasted sharply with events just 70 kilometers (45 miles) to the south, where Israeli fire killed at least four Palestinians during a mass protest along the Israel-Gaza border.
The Islamic militant Hamas rulers of Gaza have staged the near-weekly protests since March 30. Over 120 Palestinians have been killed, drawing international criticism of Israel. With some protesters hurling firebombs and sending explosives-laden kites, Israel says it is defending its sovereign border, and accuses Hamas of trying to carry out attacks under the guise of the mass protests.
Israel has emerged as one of the world's most gay-friendly travel destinations in recent years, in sharp contrast to the rest of the Middle East where gay culture is often not tolerated or even persecuted.
In Israel, homosexuals serve openly in Israel's military and parliament, and many popular artists and entertainers are homosexual. Among Palestinians, most homosexuals tend to be secretive about their social lives and some have crossed into Israel to live safely.
Sahreef Awad, an Arab participant from Israel, said "There's no difference between anyone, it's just like, you know, culture, color, nationality, it doesn't matter, come one, it's like, we are all people, that's what matters, love is love, so love wins, yeah!"
Some critics have accused Israel of "pinkwashing," or using its tolerance for gay culture to deflect criticism of harsh policies against the Palestinians.