'The Jewish answer to Hizbullah'

Olmert welcomes 650 French immigrants to "the only home we've got"

Minutes before the first of 650 new olim from France streamed off their planes at Ben-Gurion Airport Tuesday, Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski declared, "This is the Jewish answer to Hizbullah and to Hamas." Despite the daily barrages of rockets the two terror groups are hurling at Israel, none of the immigrants scheduled to come on Tuesday canceled. The result set a record for single-day aliya from France. The flights were coordinated by the Jewish Agency and AMI, an organization dedicated to encouraging French aliya through financial incentives and personal counseling. When Prime Minister Ehud Olmert greeted the immigrants during a welcoming ceremony held in an airport hangar, he also emphasized their willingness to come even as Israel suffers from rocket attacks. "The basic weapon that we have is the Jewish people, people who love Israel, who want to live here, who want to defend Israel," he said. "Our enemies think they know us, but they don't understand the deep connection between Jews wherever they live" for Israel. Liraz Berdugo, 22, said she had always wanted to make aliya and wasn't going to let the recent violence stop her. "It's not fair to come just when it's nice and good," said the newlywed, who will be living with her husband in Jerusalem. "When you come home, you don't ask if there's Hizbullah, if there are Katyushas," said Bielski, who said he expected French aliya to rise 20 percent this year to some 3,500 people. "This is the only home you've got." Julien Daham, 29, who arrived from Nice, agreed that Israel was the place he felt most at home. He said he planned to move to Ashkelon, a city recently put in range of Hamas-fired Kassams, a situation that didn't deter him. "I don't feel unsafe here," he said, describing France as more dangerous than Israel. "The streets are safer here, even with all the attacks." Pierre Besnainou, the Tunisian-born French tycoon who provides most of the funds for AMI, described the lack of cancellations on the part of olim as a "victory" for Zionism. Besnainou's son was among those to make aliya Tuesday. Also on board was 91-year-old Miriam Teboul and her daughter Georgette. "It always has been a dream for me and my mother to be in Israel," Georgette said upon their arrival. "I think she wants to die here." Hugues Lemaregnier contributed to this report.