Thousands of mourners gathered at a Jerusalem cemetery Tuesday for the funeral of four Jews killed by an Islamist gunman in Paris, in a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and other Israeli and French officials. While the families delivered heartfelt eulogies for their loved ones, Israel’s leaders denounced Islamic extremism and the terrorists it is producing, and urged the world to confront the violence and restore security.
The bodies of the victims were flown to Israel for burial following the terror attack Friday on a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris.
They were among 17 people gunned down in Paris during three days of bloodshed that began with a grisly attack on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, in a wave of violence that convulsed France and sent shockwaves through its Jewish community, the third-largest in the world.
The four Jews were laid to rest after the joint funeral at the sprawling Givat Shaul cemetery which began shortly after noon.
Relatives of each of the four gave brief eulogies, before speeches by Netanyahu, Rivlin and French Ecology Minister Segolene Royal. The families also lit memorial torches in the victims’ memory.
Philippe Braham’s widow Valery broke up in tears as she delivered a short eulogy for her husband. “Philippe, my love, my dear, was a perfect man. As I said before, a man who thinks first and foremost about others and not about himself. A great husband and a father who lives for his children… I cry but I know you all cry with me, I thank you… Philippe, protect me, protect Shirel, Naor, Ella and Raphael.”
Rabbi Beto Hattab, eulogizing his son Yoav, said simply, “I accept the judgment of Heaven with love.”
Rivlin and Netanyahu both stressed the imperative for Europe and the free world to fight Islamic extremism. They also both encouraged immigration, but Rivlin stressed that aliyah should be through choice not desperation, and said the free world had an obligation to ensure that Jews be able to live in security anywhere.
Said Rivlin: “Dear families, Yoav, Yohan, Philippe, Francois-Michel, this is not how we wanted to welcome you to Israel. This is not how we wanted you to arrive in the Land of Israel, this is not how we wanted to see you come home, to the State of Israel, and to Jerusalem, its capital. We wanted you alive, we wanted for you, life. At moments such as these, I stand before you, brokenhearted, shaken and in pain, and with me stands an entire nation.”
‘The murderer made sure to be in a Jewish shop, and only then did he carry out the massacre. This was pure, venomous evil, which stirs the very worst of memories. This is sheer hatred of Jews’ — Reuven Rivlin
He stressed that the four were killed because they were Jews: They “were murdered on the eve of the Sabbath, in a kosher supermarket in Paris, in cold blood, because they were Jewish. The murderer made sure to be in a Jewish shop, and only then did he carry out the massacre. This was pure, venomous evil, which stirs the very worst of memories. This is sheer hatred of Jews; abhorrent, dark and premeditated, which seeks to strike, wherever there is Jewish life. In Paris, in Jerusalem, in Toulouse, and in Tel Aviv. In Brussels, and in Mumbai. In the streets, and in the synagogues. In the schools, and in the local market. In the train stations, and in the museums.”
And he warned, “It would be dangerous to deny that we are talking about anti-Semitism, whether old or new. Regardless of what may be the sick motives of terrorists, it is beholden upon the leaders of Europe to act, and commit to firm measures to return a sense of security and safety to the Jews of Europe.”
Concluded the president: “We cannot allow it to be the case, that in the year 2015, 70 years since the end of the Second World War, Jews are afraid to walk in the streets of Europe with skullcaps and tzitzit. It cannot be allowed that we should see in the news frequent vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, of Jews being beaten, and of synagogues and communities under attack. It is no longer possible to ignore or remain ambiguous, or to act weakly or with leniency against the rabid anti-Semitic incitement. Ignorance and violence will not simply go away on their own.”
In his remarks, Netanyahu said world leaders were beginning to understand radical Islam.
“I think that most (world leaders) understand — or are at least starting to understand — that this terror committed by extremist Islam represents a clear and present threat to peace in the world in which we live,” he said.
‘Islamist terror … is not just the enemy of the Jewish people but of all humanity. It is time all people of all cultures united to eject these elements from among us’ — Benjamin Netanyahu
“Islamist terror … is not just the enemy of the Jewish people but of all humanity. It is time all people of all cultures united to eject these elements from among us.”
Netanyahu hailed the power and resilience of the Jewish people, who have “managed to rise from the ashes” to build “a thriving state” in which the Jews determine their own destiny.” Israel, he said, would always receive Jews “with open arms.”
“More than ever, today,” the prime minister said, “Israel is the Jewish homeland,” and the more Jews there are here, “the stronger we will be in our homeland.”
Royal, the French government’s number three, represented Paris at the funeral. In her eulogy, Royal pledged France will not tolerate anti-Semitism and will “unfailingly” fight it. “France without Jews is not France,” she said.
“Anti-Semitism has no place in France,” said Royal. “I want to assure you of the unfailing determination of the French government to fight against all forms and acts of anti-Semitism.”
Across the city, French flags were flying alongside signs reading: “Jerusalem is with the French people, we are all Charlie.”
Gary Buchwald, a friend of the Saada family who flew in from Paris with the families early Tuesday, told AFP the impact of the attack was devastating.
“His wife is in pieces. They had to literally carry her to the plane. I am in shock like all of the French community in France,” he said.
“She won’t get over this. It is not three million people marching in the street who will change this reality: other attacks will happen,” he said.
“We only have two choices: either we fight back or we run.”
For many Israelis, the killings were further evidence that France is becoming hostile territory for Jews and proof that the authorities there are unable to protect them.
Officials said the violence would likely trigger a surge in French immigration to Israel, which already hit a record high last year.
The four men were in the supermarket shortly before the start of the Jewish Sabbath when it was attacked by Islamist gunman Amedy Coulibaly.
Coulibaly, who was killed by police, had links to the two Islamic extremists who killed 12 people at Charlie Hebdo two days earlier.
Netanyahu said Sunday that he had agreed to a request from the families that the four victims be buried in Jerusalem.
After the plane carrying the victims landed in Israel just after 0230 GMT, the body of Hattab, a Tunisian national, was taken to a yeshiva near Tel Aviv where he was eulogized by Rabbi Meir Mazuz, the spiritual leader of Tunisian Jewry, at the request of the family.
As the cemetery began filling up on a sunny but freezing winter morning, the atmosphere was one of shock, sorrow and a sense that the threats facing Jews in France were not yet over.
“The grief is profound, the families are broken,” top French Jewish official Joel Merghi said.
“The Jewish community has survived (other attacks) many times in history but it will be very difficult to recover this time,” he said.
For many, the supermarket attack brought back memories of an attack in the southern French city of Toulouse in March 2012 when Islamist gunman Mohamed Merah killed three young children and a teacher at a Jewish school.
They were buried in the same Jerusalem cemetery where the victims from the Paris shooting were laid to rest.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.