More than 3.7 million people, including numerous world leaders, marched in central Paris and other cities throughout France Sunday in a rally for national unity, following the terror attacks in the French capital last week that killed 17 people.
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All flags in Paris were lowered to half-mast, and special forces and snipers were positioned on the roofs of buildings along the routes. Observers say it was the largest gathering in French history.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu marched arm in arm with Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, and at the side of French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Other national leaders who participated included British Prime Minister David Cameron, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and King Abdullah of Jordan.
Among those leading the march were heads of the Jewish and Muslim communities in France – Roger Cukierman, head of the CRIF, the roof organization of French Jewry, and Dalil Boubakeur, the imam of the Grand Mosque of Paris. Also at the head of the throngs were employees of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, who lost 10 of their colleagues in a terrorist shooting in their editorial offices last Wednesday.
The participants marched along two routes several kilometers long, from the Place de la Republique to the Place de la Nation. French security forces were on high alert, with at least 4,300 policemen, 1,350 soldiers and 150 plainclothes security men securing the event.
Hollande spoke during the march with the families of the four Jews murdered Friday in the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket. Also marching was Samuel Sandler, father of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, who was murdered in an attack on a Jewish school Toulouse in 2012. At the end of the procession Netanyahu said, “I marched in one line with world leaders to unite against terror. I told them that we must fight terror – all terror – to the death.”
After the rally, hundreds of people, among them heads of religious communities in Paris, gathered at a memorial event for the victims in Paris’ main synagogue. On every chair in the hall a sign had been placed reading, “I am a Jew,” “I am the police,” “I am Charlie Hebdo” or “I am Hyper Cacher.” Hollande attended the event, as did French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and former President Nicolas Sarkozy. Economy and Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett was also there, as was MK Eli Yishai and Netanyahu, who elicited chants of “Bibi, Bibi” and “Israel” from the participants.
Netanyahu told the crowd at the synagogue that Israel and Jews around the world stand by France and the French people. He thanked France’s president and prime minister for their stance against anti-Semitism, and conveyed his condolences to the families of the victims of the attacks. Earlier in the day, Netanyahu said that the four men murdered in the supermarket would be buried in Israel, in what he said was the families’ request.
Netanyahu also thanked the French security services, and expressed special appreciation for Lassana Bathily, a Muslim from Mali who helped save several customers during the attack on the kosher supermarket. Netanyahu said radical Islam, not Islam, is the enemy of the world, naming ISIS, Hamas, Boko Haram, Al-Qaida, the Nusra Front, Al Shabab and Hezbollah.
Israel and Europe must support one another in the struggle against radical Islam, Netanyahu said, adding that Israel already stood by Europe and France in the fight against terror – and it was now up to Europe to do the same. Both sides are fighting the same terror, Netanyahu said.
The imam of Drancy, Hassen Chalghoumi, also attended the memorial, and when he entered, the crowd stood up in respect. Chalghoumi held a prayer service in front of the Hyper Cacher store after the attack there, a gesture that was widely appreciated by the Jewish community.
Hundreds of thousands of people rallied in other French cities, including Lyon, Grenoble, and Rennes. There were also rallies in Berlin, London, Valencia, Barcelona, Moscow, Tokyo, Sydney, Beirut and Ramallah.
In Tel Aviv around 100 people assembled outside the French Embassy on Rothschild Boulevard.