Family, friends, and vast crowds of people who had never met police officer Amir Khoury paid their last respects to the “hero of Israel” Thursday, hailing him for rushing to the scene of a deadly terror attack in Bnei Brak, stopping the killing, but paying with his life.
Thousands attended the funeral of Khoury, 32, a Christian Arab from Nof Hagalil, as mourners expressed disbelief that he could be gone.
“It can’t be that he’s inside. It can’t be,” said Shani Yashar, Khoury’s fiancée, weeping as she helped bear Khoury’s casket alongside an honor guard of Israeli police officers from his unit.
“Love of my life,” Yashar said in a heartbroken eulogy at the graveside, in the city’s military cemetery. “You are a true hero. You walked into the fire without an iota of fear… Only you had that courage…
“Rest in peace, my hero of Israel. Hero of the whole people of Israel,” she cried. “All of Israel gives you its thanks. I don’t want them to thank you. But you deserve it.”
“The eye tears-up, the heart aches, and the brain cannot believe that we will never see you again,” wailed his father Jeries, himself a former policeman.
After opening prayers read by a Greek Orthodox priest, Khoury’s casket, draped with the flag of Israel, was interred.
Many of those who gathered were Khoury’s police comrades, but there was also a large presence from Bnei Brak’s ultra-Orthodox community.
Buses had ferried ultra-Orthodox Israelis from Bnei Brak to the funeral. One of the buses displayed a message: “Amir Khoury, hero of Israel.”
Around 200 residents of Bnei Brak arrived, from “the whole Haredi spectrum,” said Hanan Rubin, who helped organize the buses.
“He gave his life for others,” said Yaakov, an ultra-Orthodox Bnei Brak resident interviewed on Channel 13 en route to Khoury’s funeral. “He’s from another people, but we are brothers. He fought for us. We are obligated to come [to his funeral]. There is no other possibility.”
“In a small country like ours, personal pain quickly becomes one shared by many, by all the citizens of Israel,” Public Security Minister Omar Barlev told the crowd. “We will not forget Amir. May his memory be a blessing.”
Before Khoury’s casket was brought for burial, friends, family, fellow officers, and priests gathered to gaze upon his casket at the Church Of Annunciation in nearby Nazareth. Other senior politicians, including Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, also attended the ceremony.
Khoury’s casket was then taken to the military cemetery in his hometown. The quiet northern city of Hof Hagalil — Israel’s newest mixed Arab-Jewish municipality — has a large Arab Israeli minority of middle-class professionals.
Rubin, a former Jerusalem city council member, said bringing ultra-Orthodox Israelis to a Christian funeral brought its own complications. Some yeshiva students and rabbis balked at the prominent displays of crosses.
“But they came. They found a way to be a part of this partnership,” Rubin said.
“The response was extraordinary. So many people reached out and wanted to take part and come,” Rubin said in a phone call.
Ariel Elharrar, an ultra-Orthodox Israeli who attended the funeral, estimated that about 150 ultra-Orthodox Israelis showed up. Most of them never knew Khoury in life, but felt driven to show respect for the sacrifice he made for their community.
“It wasn’t any one group or yeshiva. 150 people showed up because they felt a need to pay their respects, often driving three or four hours from central Israel,” said Elharrar, who helped Rubin organize the buses.
Khoury served on the Bnei Brak police station’s motorcyclist responders team. Born to a family of cops — his father Jeries served for 32 years in the police — Khoury joined the police at the age of 20 after leaving dental school.
On Tuesday night, Khoury was shot and killed when he arrived on the scene of a terror attack in Bnei Brak. He and another cop directly engaged terrorist Diaa Hamarsheh, shooting him dead and preventing him from continuing his shooting spree through the Tel Aviv suburb, but Khoury sustained fatal injuries in the firefight.
Hamarsheh killed four other people before he was taken down by the two cops: Two Israelis, 29-year-old Avishai Yehezkel and 36-year-old Yaakov Shalom, and two Ukrainian nationals who had been in Israel for years, 32-year-old Victor Sorokopot and 24-year-old Dimitri Mitrik.
Khoury was rushed to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva, but later died from his wounds.
Jeries said that Amir had planned to visit the families of two Border Police officers who were killed in a terror attack in Hadera on Sunday. But instead, it was other police visiting the Khoury home in Nof Hagalil on Tuesday night, along with Yashar, who met Khoury six years ago through the police, to tell the family that Khoury had been killed. The two had planned to marry in the coming months.
His father Jeries recalled receiving word of his son’s death in an interview with Channel 12 on Wednesday.
He said he sent a message to his son over Whatsapp almost as soon as the attack in Bnei Brak took place: “What’s going on in Bnei Brak? Let me know that everything’s fine with you.”
The messages were received, but there was no response. About an hour and a half later, Jeries pleaded: “Amir, get in touch.”
“I sent him a message and he didn’t answer,” Jeries said tearfully. “After about an hour and half, the police showed up. When I saw them at the gate, I knew this was it.”
“You promised that nothing would come between us,” said his fiancée Yashar at the funeral. “We surmounted every obstacle. But this time, we did not prevail.”