Thousands of people gathered in the northern Israeli town of Yanuh-Jat Tuesday afternoon to pay their last respects to Zidan Saif, the Druze policeman who was killed in a gunfight with terrorists at a Jerusalem synagogue Tuesday.
Mourners, including friends, relatives and ultra-Orthodox Jews who traveled from Jerusalem, and Israeli and religious figures, recalled a “hero” who had taken a bullet to save his partner’s life, and said officials needed to do more to end the wave of violence in Jerusalem.
Saif, 30, was the first officer on the scene of the attack in Har Nof, where two Palestinians from East Jerusalem, armed with a gun and cleavers, had already killed four worshipers. Saif was shot in the head in the shootout in which the two terrorists were killed. Evacuated in critical condition to a local hospital, he died of his wounds late Tuesday night.
The slain officer left behind a 21-year-old wife and a four-month-old daughter, along with his parents and five brothers. Saif’s uncle died fighting in the Israel Defense Forces during the 1982 Lebanon War.
Mordechai Rubin, the rabbi of the Har Nof Bnei Torah synagogue where Saif, a traffic policeman, gave his life, eulogized him. “We came from Jerusalem, from the place of the massacre… simply to be with you and to cry with you,” he declared. “Zidan showed courage. He was the first at the battle. He stood like a wall, with his body, with his head, in order to save the souls of those in the synagogue. The loss of Zidan is our loss as well as that of the Druze community and we feel, especially at times like this, a kinship with the Druze community. The devotion and the determination of Zidan should be an example to us all — to the Druze and to the Jews.”
Druze leader Mouafiq Tarif delivered a eulogy for the slain officer, calling for an end to “incitement and extremism.”
“You must do everything to lower the flames in the Holy City,” he said, addressing President Reuven Rivlin, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, and Israel Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino by name. “Both we and you are paying a heavy price in the form of the blood of our sons. Incitement and extremism must not prevail over common sense and tolerance.
“The Druze community is going through a difficult time, tinged with sadness and pride as we lost two of our dear sons in the past two weeks who were defending the state of Israel,” added Tarif. “The entire Druze community bows its head in honor of the families of the slain in the terrible massacre in Jerusalem, and hope for safer and quieter days.”
ריבלין: לא ניתן לטרור לנצח. ח"כ אלי ישי מש"ס הגיע להלווית השוטר הדרוזי רס"מ זיידאן סייף. pic.twitter.com/WdH9TsxNSO
— idan avni עידן אבני (@idanavni75) November 19, 2014
הלוויה של זידאן סייף בכפר יאנוח. נשיא המדינה ראובן רבלין הגיע. המונים גם על הגגות pic.twitter.com/e8dMFpRLaJ
— idan avni עידן אבני (@idanavni75) November 19, 2014
Earlier in the day, hundreds of local residents visited the family home to pay their respects.
“When they told us that he had died I couldn’t believe it,” Saif’s sister Kholoud said. “He so much wanted and tried to teach his daughter Larin to say [Dad]. Now he will never hear her say that world, and she will know him only through photos and stories.”
“Zidan was full of joy at life, always laughing and creating a good atmosphere,” she continued. “A month ago he made a big party in his home for his friends, he never did that [in the past]. The feeling is that he felt that he needed to bide farewell to everyone who knew him.”
Saif joined the police in 2011 and served as a traffic police patrolman in the Jerusalem District.
Friends said he was adamant about remaining in the traffic police and would travel every day from his Western Galilee home to the capital, a distance of about 150 km (95 miles).
As soon as Saif heard of reports of the terror incident, he made his way, with his partner, to the scene. As they approached, one of the terrorists tried to attack his partner. According to family members, Saif took a bullet as he tried to protect his partner. The other policeman was lightly injured.
Rivlin, who also spoke at the funeral, promised, “We will not let terror win.
“Once again, terror has hit Jerusalem,” he said. “Terror that doesn’t discriminate between people or between blood. The terrorists have turned a house of prayer into a slaughterhouse.”
The president also praised the slain policeman for “not hesitating.”
“He arrived first, and stood up to the terrorist without fear, and sacrificed himself to protect the citizens of Jerusalem,” said Rivlin. “What can we say to a five-month-old baby girl who will not know her father, who will grow up an orphan? We will tell her that her father was a hero.”
Saif’s father-in-law, Ahmed Trudi, eulogized Saif by speaking of his bravery.
“There aren’t a lot of men like him, and there are no heroes like him,” he said. “He was a hero during his life, and he fell like a hero. This man sacrificed himself for the homeland.
“Zidan was worried about the baby, he always wanted to be near her,” Trudi continued. “He would hug her for hours.”
Aharonovitch said that Saif was a source of pride for the Druze community.
“The values that you passed on to him motivated him to defend, and he fell in the defense of the state of Israel,” the minister said. “We are partners in that fate. Together, we will combat the killers who murdered Jews wrapped in prayer shawls.”
Danino said that the source of the recent spate of attacks is incitement.
“This attack joins other incidents that are the result of wild incitement by the extreme Muslim leadership,” he said. “Zidan went into the heart of the murderous inferno without doubt or fear. His actions, and the actions of his comrades, saved the situation. The abominable intentions of the terrorists to expand the attack did not go ahead.”
Danino added that the violence in Jerusalem can only come to an end if incitement is curbed, but also called for dialogue with Palestinian leaders.
A statement circulated within the ultra-Orthodox community earlier in the day called on the public to attend Saif’s family.
“We are organizing a group of Haredim to attend the funeral of the Druze policeman who died last night of his wounds,” the statement read. “We ask the Haredi community to come to the funeral of the policeman who died protecting our praying brothers — let’s show our gratitude, and sanctify God’s name.”
Ariella Shternbach, the organizer of the initiative, said that the costs of the buses to the funeral were covered by donors.
“I saw the picture of Saif with his small daughter, and I was moved by the thought that he sacrificed his life for the Jewish people. Haredim, who were most affected by this attack, must come and pay their last respects,” she added.