'This can happen in France, too'

In Kfar Aza, French MPs say gruesome scenes recall 2015 Paris massacre

Lawmakers from delegation, which includes former prime minister, say Paris won’t tie Israel’s hands and will support Jerusalem for as long as it needs to topple Hamas

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Colonel Golan Vach (R) speaks to French parliamentarians in Kfar Aza, October 16, 2023 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)
Colonel Golan Vach (R) speaks to French parliamentarians in Kfar Aza, October 16, 2023 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

France faces the same terrorist threat as Israel, a group of French parliamentarians declared on Monday, standing at the site of the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack in the southern border town of Kfar Aza.

“It’s the Islamist jihadism that attacks us in France and in Europe as well,” former French prime minister Manuel Valls told The Times of Israel. “That’s why we need to be side by side with Israel here and testify and tell what happened.”

“For us in France, the horrible images that we have seen from the dance party [near Kibbutz Re’im, where 260 people were slaughtered] remind us of the horrors of the Bataclan,” said MP Benjamin Haddad, a close ally of French President Emmanuel Macron. “It’s the same threat we’re facing, so we are here to listen and convey our solidarity.”

The November 2015 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people were the worst peacetime atrocity carried out on French soil. Ninety of them were concertgoers massacred at the Bataclan theater during the series of coordinated attacks.

The 10 French politicians were brought to Israel by ELNET, an organization working to build ties between Israel and Europe.

They toured the Shura Base where the IDF’s military rabbinate is working to identify hundreds of soldiers and civilians killed in the Hamas attacks. Army rabbis opened the refrigerated shipping containers holding the bodies to let the delegation see the scale of the assault with their own eyes.

An Israeli soldier walks through Kfar Aza, October 16, 2023 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

The lawmakers were given masks to partially block the odor of death that permeated the base when the containers were opened.

“Since the Holocaust, no nation has suffered such a frightful evil,” Col. Haim Weissberg, a senior IDF chaplain, told the group.

The parliamentarians came under Hamas rocket fire as they made their way to the Gaza border area.  While they waited at an IDF checkpoint near Nahal Oz, soldiers rushed them into a concrete shelter by the side of the road where they crammed in next to Thai workers.

Personal items believed to belong to a fleeing concertgoer lie on the pavement near the Bataclan theatre in the 11th district of Paris on November 14, 2015, after a series of attacks on the city resulted in the deaths of at least 120 individuals.(AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD)

Inside Kfar Aza where around 100 kibbutz members were killed, the group walked by a crushed jeep and the remains of a paraglider belonging to terrorists.

Colonel Golan Vach, a commander of the IDF National Rescue Unit, walked the guests through his experience searching the community after the attack. Lawmakers entered small apartments still covered in blood, their walls black with soot and riddled with bullet holes.

Vach recounted finding bound naked bodies of kibbutz residents and said he had carried the bodies of decapitated babies.

“I am trying to figure out what kind of creatures could take women and children,” he said inside a burnt-out room. “In Be’eri, I came across a horrible scene, a mother trying to protect her baby shot in the back, and the baby decapitated.”

Burnt out cars in Kfar Aza, October 16, 2023 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

“I carried the baby in my hands. I apologize, I deeply apologize, for not taking a picture.”

The politicians were visibly shaken by the sights and smells of the destroyed community.

“I have never seen something like that,” said French National Assembly deputy Emmanuel Pellerin. “There’s a name for that. It’s barbarism against civilians.”

“This can happen in France, too,” he warned.

When asked whether Macron would press Israel to exercise restraint as civilian casualties rise in its Gaza counter-offense, Pellerin responded simply: “It’s war.”

Haddad also asserted that France would not get in the way of Israel’s ongoing military campaign. “There can be no peace, no dialogue, as long as Hamas is in power,” he said.

ELNET Israel CEO Emmanuel Navon said that support from Europe is crucial as Israel expands its attacks on Hamas.

“We see that they are horrified and they support Israel’s right to defend itself,” Navon told The Times of Israel. “But images coming out of the Gaza Strip are starting to turn that around.”

“There’s nothing stronger than seeing the horrors in the south and also meeting with families of victims and hostages,” Navon added.

The delegation met on Monday evening with French citizens whose loved ones were kidnapped by Hamas. The families held large pictures of their missing relatives.

“France is not abandoning its own people,” tweeted Haddad after the meeting.

“There should be no hesitation or ambiguity regarding the support for Israel,” said Valls. “It’s a fight that is going to be hard, a war of images, of psychological warfare — and that is why it’s important for us to be here to testify to what happened here.”

Most Popular
read more: