Shimon Peres was laid to rest yesterday in a ceremony attended by thousands of admirers and dozens of international dignitaries in a final tribute to a man who personified the history of Israel during a remarkable seven-decade political career and who came to be seen by many as a visionary and a symbol of hope of middle east peace.
President Barack Obama, former U S president Bill Clinton, former British prime ministers David Cameron and Tony Blair and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas headlined a long list of world leaders who converged on Israel’s national cemetery, Mount Herzl. Palestinian leader Mr Abbas sat in the front row at the memorial service.
In a heartfelt eulogy,Mr Obama said that Peres showed that “justice and hope” are at the heart of Israel’s Zionist ideals.
“Shimon never saw his dream of peace fulfilled,” Mr Obama said. “And yet he did not stop dreaming, and he did not stop working.”
Mr Obama described the unlikely friendship he forged with Peres given their vastly different backgrounds.
“It was so surprising to see the two of us, where we had started, talking together in the White House, meeting here in Israel,” he said. “I think both of us understood that we were here only because in some way we reflected the magnificent story of our nations.”
He said Peres never tired, never dwelled on the past, and always seemed to have another project in the works.
“It is that faith, that optimism, that belief, even when all the evidence is to the contrary, that tomorrow can be better that makes us not just honor Shimon Peres, but love him,” he said. “The last of the founding generation is now gone,” he added.
Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who held every major office in Israel, including president and prime minister, died on Wednesday, two weeks after suffering a stroke. He was 93.
It was Israel’s largest gathering of international dignitaries since the funeral of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, The funeral created numerous logistical and security challenges, and roads, including the main road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, were closed.
In an emotional eulogy, Mr Clinton described Peres as a “wide champion of our common humanity.”
Mr Clinton was president when Peres negotiated a historic interim peace accord with the Palestinians in 1993. He described a warm, 25-year friendship and dismissed critics who described Peres as a naive dreamer.
“He started life as Israel’s brightest student, became its best teacher and ended up its biggest dreamer,” said Clinton.
“He lived 93 years in a state of constant wonder over the unbelievable potential of all the rest of us to rise above our wounds, our resentments, our fears to make the most of today and claim the promise of tomorrow,” he said.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the gathering of world leaders was a testament to Peres’ optimism, quest for peace and love for Israel. “He was a great man of Israel. He was a great man of the world. Israel grieves for him. The world grieves for him,” Mr Netanyahu said.
Peres lay in state on Thursday outside parliament, where thousands of people, including Mr Clinton, came to pay their respects. Early yester day, an honour guard escorted the coffin, together with Peres’ family, along the short route to the cemetery.
After the funeral, the casket was carried to the grave site by eight honorr guards led by soldiers carrying wreaths. Mr Netanyahu and Mr Obama talked along the way, also talking to Peres’ family.
An Israeli flag was removed from the casket as it was interred in a plot alongside two other prime ministers, Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir.