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Around the Jewish World Mother of Murdered French Jew Speaks out on What Went Wrong

March 23, 2006
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Ruth Halimi is afraid. Since her son Ilan was tortured to death in February, she hasn’t had a moment’s peace. Her life has been ravaged forever. “It’s a nightmare,” she says. “Sometimes I think I’ll wake up and find it isn’t so, but it is. Ilan is gone, and I must keep on living. I must keep on living.”

In her modest apartment, she receives journalists but insists that they take no pictures of her.

“I don’t want my face in the newspapers, on television or on the Internet,” she says. “I’m afraid there are more barbarians out there and that they’ll find me.”

Ilan Halimi, 23, was left for dead in the train station of a Paris suburb on Feb. 13 after being kidnapped and tortured for three weeks by a gang demanding ransom. He died on the way to the hospital.

More than 10 suspects have been arrested, including the leader of the gang, Youssouf Fofana, who was extradited from the Ivory Coast, where his parents were born.

Suspects told police that they tried to kidnap Jews because “all Jews are rich,” and that they put cigarettes out on the victim’s face because “he was Jewish and we don’t like Jews.”

Halimi says something is wrong with the educational system in France.

“France has produced monsters,” she says, her face thin and skin tight, fraught by nerves and pain. “It’s not about being Muslim, because all the gang members went to secular, public schools. They have grown up with no feelings, like mechanical monsters.”

Most of the gang members were Muslim, of North African Arab and black African origins, but others involved were not, including the superintendent of the building where Halimi was held.

“They promised him 1,500 euros, so he gave them an empty apartment to use and said nothing,” Halimi said of the superintendent. “What kind of a man is that?”

She answers her own question: “It’s a man who simply does not care.”

Many residents reportedly knew someone was being tortured in the basement, but did not intervene or alert authorities.

“It was an open secret in the neighborhood that a Jew was being held and tortured, and nobody called the police anonymously, not one person,” she says, shaking her head. “The elevator was blocked for 10 days and people were guarding the door to the apartment, and nobody called the police. It was not that all those neighbors were anti-Semitic. It’s more that they simply did not care.”

She doesn’t find it difficult to believe that most French people do not think this was an anti-Semitic crime.

“Everyone agrees that this is a sick crime,” she says, “but beyond that, most French people simply do not care, one way or the other. That’s the way they are.”

Halimi has been very critical of the French police. She says they broke the first rule in the book by telling her to break off contact with the kidnappers.

“Everyone knows you maintain contact; otherwise, they become enraged, and that is exactly what happened,” she said. Even Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy “told me that the police had failed. He said, ‘I am taking this personally because I am the head of the police.’ “

“I feel like the French police abandoned me,” she adds. “I think they wanted to catch the gang members, but they were not thinking about Ilan. It was cold-blooded, with no feeling, like they didn’t care.”

She is careful to say she has nothing against Muslims.

“I grew up with Muslims in Casablanca, in Morocco,” she says. “I never had any problems, never. The problem is with France. I think the country has become sick from a lack of feelings, a lack of emotion.”

Halimi says she always has been a religious Jew.

“I have always prayed to God,” she says. “I still pray every day. This is what gets me through every day. Without my god, I would have collapsed already. They took my baby boy.”

She begins to cry. The tears flow. She does not try to stop them. Her son-in-law Rafi is there. There are friends in the apartment. People from her building stop by regularly.

“There are good people here,” she says.

Halimi wants to leave France.

“Ilan always wanted to go the United States,” she says. “The whole family wants to go. Myself, I want to go to New York.”

For the first time, she has a small smile on her face, but it does not last.

The murder was front-page news for weeks, but now it has been replaced by a new drama — rioting in the streets over a new labor law for young people.

No trial date has been set, but Halimi trusts the lawyer, Francis Spizner.

“He wants to tear these guys apart,” she says.

Halimi’s ex-husband has been talking to the press, but she does not talk to him.

The tears have returned. The French Jewish community is taking care of her needs; she and her family will not go hungry. But she no longer feels at home in France. And her boy Ilan is gone forever.

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