Around 2,000 mourners gathered on Tuesday for a somber state funeral in Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul neighborhood to lay to rest the four victims of a hostage attack at a Paris kosher grocery store last Friday. The bodies of the deceased were interred in a Jerusalem commemoration after an invitation to host the burial was extended to relatives of the slain by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which later sought payment from families of $13,000 each for the ceremonies. Economic Minister Naftali Bennett intervened late Tuesday night, lifting the fee.
On the decision to hold the ceremony in Jerusalem where the victims have relatives, instead of Paris, mourners I spoke to expressed tacit support or apathy. Most attended to show support for the relatives of the deceased: Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, Francois-Michel Saada and Phillipe Braham. Some relayed outrage toward the broader Muslim and Arab community. Slain assailant Amedy Coulibaly was of Muslim background and had declared allegiance to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda in a video he made before opening gunfire in the grocery store. Coulibaly alleged that he coordinated his act with Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, the attackers of the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine, which had drawn the ire of the Muslim community for publishing cartoons mocking the image of the Muslim prophet Mohammed. And yet what media has called a “Muslim hero” emerged from the grocery store attack when Mali-born stockroom worker Lassana Bathily risked his life to hide six shoppers—including a baby—in a walk-in freezer.
“I think it’s the choice of the family,” a 24-year old relative of one of the Paris victims said of the location of the burials in Jerusalem. “I don’t have an opinion about that. If the family wants that and it’s good for them, then it’s a good thing.” She asked that her name and family connection not be published, and she spoke to me while the funeral was in progress. She was unable to participate, “I just can’t,” she said. Instead she sat on a curb just beyond the area designated for the memorial.
The soft-spoken mourner was in shock. “I don’t know, I feel like I don’t have trust in the world because what is…” she said trailing off, concluding, “I don’t understand how you can kill people. I really don’t understand.”
“It sucks. I feel like, maybe I’m naïve, but I don’t—If people just stop taking things in the wrong way because religious people I think—Christians, Muslims, Jews—do not to take their religions to places of hate, because I don’t think religious people want to kill. We are all from God and we need peace and love, you know? I don’t understand it. It’s really hard for me. It’s scary you know,” she continued.
The unnamed relative added that the thousands in attendance, primarily from the French-Israeli community in Jerusalem, were a comfort to her. “It’s really nice that a lot of people came that are not related, but they came united,” she said.
Israeli-born French national Kim Harroch, 18, from Jerusalem arrived at the funeral with a group of friends, all of French background. “The funeral in Israel” was appropriate, she said, “because in France the Arabs killed them and so they are entombed here because of security.” She also felt that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was correct when he called on French Jews to give up life in their home country and immigrate to Israel. Those remarks, delivered while Netanyahu was attending commemorations of the killings in Paris, caught backlash from French officials, and ruffled feathers among some of the Jerusalem funeral-goers, who saw the Prime Minister’s remarks as ill-timed.
“I think that it is very honorable to be buried in Israel,” said Ziva Rimmon, 19, an American from Los Angeles living in Jerusalem on a gap-year program. “I think it’s important to live in Israel, but I also think that we need to have a place all over the world.”
“As to the timing of when he said it– OK, I say it’s debatable, but as far as the content of what he said—I don’t think that message is to be trivialized,” said Robby Berman, 48, an American-Israeli who also lives in Jerusalem. “I think the message needs to be made. And I don’t think there anything wrong with saying it.”
Berman added that he was nonplussed by the response from the French-Muslim community. “I think we need to hear more from Muslim groups and see Muslim protests,” he said. While all Muslims are not responsible for the attacks, he said, Muslims are obligated to speak out against the killings. After the abduction and burning alive last July of a Palestinian East Jerusalemite teen, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, by Israeli nationalists, Berman was part of a delegation of 200 Israelis who paid respects to the family. “I wanted to come as an Orthodox Jew and condemn what my group of people—even though I don’t really identify with them, but they are Jewish, they were religious—so I wanted to come and condemn that,” he said.
Berman expects the same from Muslims in Paris. “Muslims need to come out and condemn what Muslims are doing even if they don’t feel that they are extremist Muslims. Otherwise,” he added, “we are going to lose faith in the Islamic community around the world.”
“On the one hand I’m greatly concerned for people becoming extremely right-wing, black and white and painting all Muslims as terrorists. On the other hand I’m greatly concerned that our leadership,” said Berman, “is not taking this seriously enough. I think most people are willing to give up their freedom of privacy, to a certain degree, and allow secret police to be inside synagogues and churches and mosque to make sure that there is no one fulminating violence,” he added.
Others at the funeral uttered harsher words for Muslims and Arabs and conflated the Paris attackers with Palestinians in an “us and them” frame.
“I think they are proud of themselves, of what they did. They have another mind set,” said Eric Meltz, 15, of the perpetrators of the fatal hostage takeover of Paris’ Hyper Cacher store. Meltz is a francophone Israeli student who attended the Jerusalem burial with a cohort from his school. “If they kill Jewish people, they are getting happy, they are starting a party,” he said of the Arab community in France.
“I don’t like how they think,” Meltz continued, and likened the French issue to the conflict in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. “Let’s say Israeli soldiers kill someone from the Muslim [community], they [Muslims] will make revenge. But if they make a terrorist attack on us, we don’t think of revenge. That’s the difference between us and them. We are better people,” said Meltz.
Also on Tuesday a funeral was held in Paris for three police officers killed in the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo last week. The magazine will print three million copies of a special issue with a cover design by cartoonist Renald “Luz” Luzier who was spared from the January 7th attack as he overslept the morning the gunmen opened fire on the editorial staff. The latest issue’s front will feature an image of the prophet Mohammed holding a sign that reads “Je Suis Charlie,” the iconic phrase of solidarity with the slain magazine workers.
Next week a national memorial will be held in Paris for all 17 victims of both attacks.