The funeral of 32-year-old Amir Khoury on Thursday put the spotlight on Israel’s small but vibrant Christian community as thousands of people, including ultra-Orthodox Jews, came to pay their respects to the police officer who died in a shoot out with a terrorist on Tuesday.
Khoury’s funeral was held at the Church Of Annunciation in Nazareth.
A bus carrying religious Jews from Bnei Brak, where the attack occurred, displayed the message: “Amir Khoury, hero of Israel.”
Terror attacks undoubtedly raise tensions between Jews and Arabs across Israel, but many times Arabs are also victims of these incidents. In an attack on Sunday, a Border Police officer, who was Druze, was killed alongside his colleague, who was Jewish. The two were both 19.
Khoury sped to the scene on a motorcycle on Tuesday night right up to where the shooter was still firing an M-16 in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak. He was struck in a direct shoot out with the terrorist – whom Khoury’s partner then shot dead – ending the attack.
But it was too late for Khoury.
“You are a real hero, you were the hero of all Israel,” Khoury’s girlfriend, Shani Yesher, cried at the funeral.
"He loved the police and was always first to respond. He told me that one day he would stop a terror attack. I told him it was not worth it,” she said.
“I ask that everyone will say that he was a hero, even though he wouldn't like his picture everywhere. For seven years I haven't posted a picture of us and now there are pictures of us everywhere. He would go crazy if he could see this.”
Yesher said that Khoury had completed a law degree, but he preferred to stay in the police force.
Khoury’s father, Jeries – a retired police officer – said “a tragedy came upon us, like thunder on a sunny day.”
The funeral was attended by thousands of people from police officers to religious Jews who were moved by Khoury's sacrifice.
"The moment I heard that Amir Khoury was a Christian Arab who was killed while saving Jews in the middle of Bnei Brak ... I said the most important thing we can do, the best picture we can show is Haredi Jews, religious Jews, coming to a Christian funeral to give him the respect he deserves," one of the Jewish mourners told Channel 12 News.
While many Israeli Arabs tend to identify as Palestinian and are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, others strive to integrate into Israeli society while still maintaining their own cultural and religious identity.
Several Christian organizations in northern Israel encourage Arab enlistment in the Israel Defense Forces. The Druze community also serves in the Israeli army. Druze in Israel are not Muslim but are Arabic-speaking. Their religion is a secretive cult that traces its roots back to Egypt.