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Funerals 2,000 Miles Apart Mourn Seven Victims of French Terror Attacks

Mourners gathered at ceremonies in Paris and Jerusalem to bury victims killed last week during the attacks on 'Charlie Hebdo' and a kosher supermarket.
Photo by Jacques Brinon/AP

Hundreds of mourners and relatives gathered Tuesday in Paris for a solemn ceremony that honored three police officers killed during the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks. Distraught relatives sobbed and clutched each other as the three coffins draped in the French tricolor flag were carried to a podium. A military band played the funeral march.

Both French President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls attended the ceremony, in which each victim — Clarissa Jean-Philippe, 26, Ahmed Merabet, 40 and Franck Brinsolaro, 49 — was awarded a posthumous Legion d'Honneur, the highest decoration in France, for their service.

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Since his death, Merabet has become a symbol of France's struggle for unity after the attacks. People used the Twitter hashtag #JeSuisAhmed — a play on the original #JeSuisCharlie — to demonstrate that most Muslims are not extremists or terrorists and will defend the rights of others.

"My brother was Muslim and he was killed by two terrorists, by two false Muslims," Ahmed's brother, Malek Merabet, said. "Islam is a religion of peace and love," he added.

More than 2,000 miles away, hundreds of mourners shed more tears at another set of funerals in Har HaMenuchot, Jerusalem's largest cemetery. The predominantly French-speaking crowd gathered at noon to bury the four Jewish hostages shot dead during the Friday standoff at a Hypercacher kosher supermarket in Paris.

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There was a heavy security presence at the funeral. A helicopter and a white surveillance balloon hovered overhead. Police and soldiers sealed off roads around the cemetery, and most mourners arrived via public shuttle service organized especially for the occasion.

Some mourners waved the Israeli flag and carried plaques that read, "Dead Because I am a Jew," and "I am Charlie. I am Jewish. I am Israeli. I am French. I am fed up." Others wore commemorative T-shirts that featured photographs of the four dead men: Yoav Hattab, 21, Yohan Cohen, 20 Philippe Braham, 40, and Francois-Michel Saada, 64.

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Cohen, the youngest of the supermarket victims, was reportedly shot trying to intervene when the gunman threatened to shoot a child. The hashtag #JeSuisYohan was used on Twitter in the aftermath of the attacks to highlight mounting anti-Semitism in France.

"The atmosphere in France is becoming very ugly," Maria, a 28 year-old graphic designer who was born in Paris but moved to Israel seven years ago to be near her parents, told VICE News. "My cousins still live there, they are the same age as Yohan and Yoav. I spoke to them on the phone as soon as we heard what was happening, and the feeling we all had was that it could have been them. It's very uncomfortable."

'My brother was Muslim and he was killed by two terrorists, by two false Muslims.'

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formally acceded to a request from the Jewish victims' relatives to bury their loved ones in Israel.

The coffins reportedly arrived at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport at 4am Tuesday morning accompanied by relatives, and were sped away on waiting ambulances.

"This is not how we wanted to welcome you to the Holy Land; this is not how we wanted to see you return," Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said at Tuesday's ceremony honoring the victims. "We wanted you alive. I stand before you now with a heart that is broken, shaking and in pain, and the whole nation is crying with me."

A son of Saada, the 64-year-old victim, delivered a choked eulogy for his father. "It was his dream to live in Israel… He's here now, and I'm sure he's really happy to be here with you," he said.

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Everything we know so far about the men behind the Paris terror attacks. Read more here.

Widow Valerie Braham choked back tears as she remembered her husband, Phillipe, as a "perfect man." The couple already has a son buried in Israel. "Today he's with our son," she said. "I cry, but I know that you're all crying with me, and I thank you all for all of this."

Though it's not unusual for Jewish families to bury their loved ones in Israel, even if they never lived there, the decision not to inter the shooting victims in France was significant. Since the attack, Netanyahu has opened his arms to European Jews, who he says face "terrible anti-Semitism."

"Jews should be able to live everywhere and feel protected and secure," Netanyahu said Tuesday at the funeral. "But I believe that Jews know they have only one state."

Nearly 7,000 French Jews immigrated to Israel last year, the first time the country topped the list of nationalities making aliyah since 1948. Following the supermarket attack, Israeli authorities predict that as many as 10,000 will arrive in the coming year.

Yet some mourners at the funeral said French Jews should think twice before leaving.

"We, the Jewish people, have already faced this misery before," Yaad Ivanenko, a 38-year-old real estate agent in Tel Aviv, told VICE News. "I made the journey here today because I think it is important — my grandparents were the victims of anti-Semitic persecution — to show that Israel will stand with and behind the Jews of France so that they are free to continue to exist there. They should not be forced to run away again."

Rivlin echoed those sentiments in previous remarks — saying French Jews should not make an "aliyah of fear" — but the Israeli president emphasized Tuesday that Europe must act against anti-Semitism.

"It should not be the case that in 2015, 70 years since the end of WWII, that Jews should be afraid to walk with a yarmulke on their heads and tzitzit under their clothes in the streets of Europe," Rivlin said.

Follow Harriet Salem on Twitter: @HarrietSalem