TEL AVIV — Approximately 2,500 Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday evening to express solidarity with the people of France following the massive terror attacks in Paris that left 129 people dead and 352 wounded.
Representing Israel’s governing coalition at the rally, Interior Minister Silvan Shalom told the French ambassador and other assembled dignitaries that “Israel stands by you and we will help you. We will defeat those who want to destroy our values.”
“We send our condolences to the French president, government and the entire French people. We will stand shoulder to shoulder with you as a nation that understands better than others what it is to be under a terror assault.”
Israel’s frail former president Shimon Peres also addressed the crowd, as did Israel’s opposition leader Isaac Herzog and French ambassador Patrick Maisonnave. All the speakers emphasized Israel and France’s common dedication to freedom and democratic values, and the phrase “vive la liberté” rang out repeatedly. The gathering concluded with the singing of the French and Israeli national anthems, with many in the crowd singing along.
Peres told reporters that he has a fond place in his heart for France because in the early days of the state, in the years following its founding in 1948, France provided Israel with arms.
“Other countries voted for us, but they [the French] gave us guns. They were the only ones who allowed us to defend our lives. A lot of people don’t know the history.”
Asked whether France had asked Israel for help in the fight against terror, French Ambassador to Israel Patrick Maisonnave told the Times of Israel that “we’re not starting from scratch. There’s always been great cooperation between the two states, especially as far as the fight against terror. Probably because of what happened we will ask for an increase in that cooperation.”
About half the people in attendance were Israeli-born. The rest were French or other European citizens who had moved to Israel, some to escape rising anti-Semitism in France.
Laurent Cige, the owner of a chain of chocolate shops called Daskalides, moved to Israel from Belgium 26 years ago. He said he came to the rally to show solidarity with the pain of the French people.
“I feel that as democrats and Israelis and Jews we share many values with the French, particularly equality and fraternity. This is how I was raised in Belgium. As a French speaker, I share French culture.”
Michal Beit Halachmi, a professional clarinet player, said she came to the rally because she has many friends in Paris and has visited many times.
“It’s one of my favorite places in the world. The people I care about live there. As soon as this happened, I ran to the telephone to see if they’re okay.
“I talked to my friends about the fear,” she said. “It’s important to show we care, so we can help them learn to live with terror, without getting used to it, yet not be so afraid that life stops. I gave them that energy.
“Some of my friends said to me, ‘how do you live with this every day?’ I said, ‘the only way to fight terror is through living.’”