Israeli killed in Tunisian synagogue attack buried in Netivot amid Gaza fighting

Brother-in-law says family hoped Aviel Haddad would come back from Djerba pilgrimage with a bride, instead he ‘returned in a coffin’

Friends and family attend the funeral of Aviel Hadadd, who was killed during a shooting attack outside a synagogue in the Tunisian island of Djerba, at the cemetery in Netivot, May 12, 2023. (Flash90)
Friends and family attend the funeral of Aviel Hadadd, who was killed during a shooting attack outside a synagogue in the Tunisian island of Djerba, at the cemetery in Netivot, May 12, 2023. (Flash90)

Aviel Haddad, the dual Tunisian-Israeli national who was killed in a deadly shooting attack at a Tunisian synagogue this week, was laid to rest Friday in the southern Israeli city of Netivot.

Haddad, 30, was killed Tuesday alongside his cousin, Benjamin Haddad, a 42-year-old French citizen, and three police officers when a national guardsman fired upon an annual Jewish pilgrimage at the historic El Ghriba synagogue on the resort island of Djerba, believed to be one of the world’s oldest Jewish shrines.

The funeral was held amid ongoing fighting against Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the nearby Gaza Strip. While rocket sirens were not activated during the ceremony, explosions, apparently from Iron Dome interceptions, were heard in the background.

“We thought he went to Djerba to bring back a bride, and that we’ll see him happy underneath the hupa. In the end, he returned in a coffin,” his brother-in-law said in eulogy.

“The State of Israel is dealing with terror. Hate and antisemitism is its fuel,” said Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, the government’s representative at the service. “The synagogue was a target for terrorism this week and also in the past.”

Lilach Haddad said her cousin was “like a father to me.”

Benjamin Haddad, left, and his cousin, Aviel Haddad, who were killed in a shooting in Djerba, Tunisia on May 9, 2023. (Courtesy of the family)

“He would take my sister to the hospital when she was sick. He would never let her give up. His mother died three years ago and he was the head of the house. When the head is gone, what is left?”

Also Friday, Tunisian authorities revealed the gunman’s name — Wissam Khazri, a member of the Tunisian National Guard affiliated with the naval center in the island’s port town of Aghir — and said he planned the attack, but they gave no explanation of why. It was yet unknown if Khazri specifically targeted Jews in the attack.

Authorities were investigating the motive of Khazri, who was shot dead after killing three police officers, the Hadads, and wounding a dozen others.

France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office also opened an investigation following the death of its national.

The synagogue attracted more pilgrims this year — around 6,000 people from the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe, and beyond — than it had for some time, Trabelsi said. He said he was saddened that the pilgrimage to the site that is revered in Judaism “was spoiled by those who wish Tunisia harm.”

Jews have lived on Djerba, a picturesque island off the southern coast of Tunisia, since 500 BCE. Djerba’s Jewish population is one of North Africa’s biggest, although in recent years it declined to 1,500, down from 100,000 in the 1960s.

In 2002, a truck bombing killed about 20 people at the entrance to the same temple during the annual Jewish pilgrimage. Al-Qaeda claimed that attack, whose victims included German and French tourists as well as Tunisians.

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