Hundreds attend funeral of Michael Ben Zikri, 45, who was hailed as a hero for sacrificing his life to save a Bedouin mother and her three children from drowning.
By Yakir Benzion, United With Israel
Jews and Arabs joined together in mourning Sunday at the funeral of Michael Ben Zikri, 45, of Ashdod who drowned after rescuing a Bedouin mother and her three children from a shallow lake where Israelis were enjoying their weekend.
The family had apparently gotten sucked under the water when a sinkhole opened up underneath them in the man-made lake near Zikim beach outside of Ashkelon, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Tel Aviv.
The 40-year-old woman and her three children hail from the Bedouin town of Hura, just north of Beersheba, and had joined other Israeli families at the popular swimming area on Friday. Ben Zikri rescued the mother, two girls, aged 14 and 7, and their 10-year-old brother.
The exhausted Ben Zikri apparently slipped under the water himself and his body was found later by Magen David Adom rescue workers, but it was too late and he could not be revived.
“Today it’s hard to find a hero like this,” one of the Bedouin family members said in a TV news interview. “The entire family apologizes for what happened.”
Even though limited by the coronavirus pandemic, scores of Bedouins from Hura attended the funeral, holding posters with slogans praising Ben Zikri’s heroism and thanking him for saving the family.
Former Arab Knesset member Talab El-Sana addressed the funeral, telling Ben Zikri’s family that the entire community shared in their grief.
“The Arab public is in mourning in the entire country from north to south,” El-Sana said. “We will rename the main street in our town in his honor.”
Israel’s president Reuven Rivlin paid tribute to Ben Zikri and announced that his office is creating a new civilian award for citizens who inspire others in society through their heroic actions.
“I have decided to award, for the first time, a special commendation to Michael Ben Zikri, of blessed memory, whose actions set an example of outstanding civic action,” tweeted Rivlin, who invited both families to his residence at the end of the mourning period.