Is­raelis, world lead­ers gather for Peres fu­neral

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OBITUARIES -

JERUSALEM >> Shi­mon Peres was laid to rest on Fri­day in a cer­e­mony at­tended by thou­sands of ad­mir­ers and dozens of in­ter­na­tional dig­ni­taries — 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 sym­bol of hopes of Mideast peace.

U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, former U.S. Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton and Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas head­lined a long list of world lead­ers who con­verged on Is­rael’s na­tional ceme­tery, Har Herzl, for the event. Ab­bas sat in the front row at the me­mo­rial ser­vice.

In a heart­felt eu­logy, Obama said Peres showed that “jus­tice and hope” are at the heart of Is­rael’s Zion­ist ideals.

“Shi­mon never saw his dream of peace ful­filled,” Obama said. “And yet he did not stop dream­ing, and he did not stop work­ing.”

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. “Toda rabah haver yakar,” he said, He­brew for “thank you so much, dear friend.”

Peres, a No­bel Peace Prize lau­re­ate who held ev­ery ma­jor of­fice in Is­rael, in­clud­ing pres­i­dent and prime min­is­ter, died Wed­nes­day, two weeks af­ter suf­fer­ing a stroke. He was 93.

Fri­day’s fu­neral was Is­rael’s largest gath­er­ing of in­ter­na­tional dig­ni­taries since the fu­neral of Prime Min­is­ter Yitzhak Rabin, Peres’ part­ner in peace, who was killed by a Jewish na­tion­al­ist in 1995. The fu­neral cre­ated nu­mer­ous lo­gis­ti­cal and se­cu­rity chal­lenges, and roads, in­clud­ing the main high­way from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, were closed.

In an emo­tional eu­logy, Clin­ton de­scribed Peres as a “wide champion of our com­mon hu­man­ity.”

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 re­called a meet­ing with Peres where Is­raeli and Arab chil­dren sang to­gether John Len­non’s “Imag­ine.”

“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.

It was an emo­tional re­turn for Clin­ton, who eu­lo­gized Rabin at the same spot in Jerusalem fol­low­ing his as­sas­si­na­tion 21 years ago.

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,” Ne­tanyahu said.

Peres, Is­rael’s lead­ing dove, and the hard-line Ne­tanyahu were fierce po­lit­i­cal ri­vals and had vastly dif­fer­ent world visions. But Ne­tanyahu said they en­joyed a strong per­sonal re­la­tion­ship and de­scribed Peres as a man of vi­sion.

“I loved you. We all loved you. Farewell Shi­mon. Dear man. Great leader,” he said.

Peres’ cas­ket lay in state on Thurs­day out­side the par­lia­ment build­ing, where thou­sands of peo­ple, in­clud­ing Clin­ton, came to pay their re­spects. Early Fri­day, an honor guard es­corted the cas­ket, to­gether with Peres’ fam­ily, along the short route to the ceme­tery.

Af­ter the fu­neral, the cas­ket was led to the gravesite car­ried by eight mem­bers of an honor guard and led by sol­diers car­ry­ing wreaths. Ne­tanyahu and Obama chat­ted along the way, also talk­ing with Peres’ fam­ily.

An Is­raeli flag was re­moved from the cas­ket as it was low­ered into the ground in a plot along­side two other prime min­is­ters, Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir.

With dig­ni­taries seated around, sol­diers passed bags of dirt to each other to cover the cas­ket, and a mil­i­tary can­tor re­cited the prayer for the dead. Af­ter it was in the ground, it was cov­ered in wreaths.

The United States del­e­ga­tion also in­cluded Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry and about 20 mem­bers of Congress and sev­eral ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials. French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande, Bri­tain’s Prince Charles, Ger­man Pres­i­dent Joachim Gauck and scores of other world lead­ers also at­tended the fu­neral.

While Peres is viewed in the West as a vi­sion­ary ad­vo­cate for peace, his legacy in the Arab world is mixed and re­ac­tion has been sub­dued. An­i­mos­ity to­ward Is­rael re­mains strong in the Arab world, es­pe­cially at a time of dead­lock in peace ef­forts, and Peres is still as­so­ci­ated with wars and set­tle­ment con­struc­tion that took place dur­ing his lengthy ca­reer.

Ab­bas, how­ever, was one of the lone Arab voices to ex­press his sad­ness over Peres’ death, and his aides say he wanted to rec­og­nize Peres for his years of ef­forts to pro­mote peace. Ab­bas and Ne­tanyahu, who have barely spo­ken to one an­other dur­ing the past seven years, shook hands and briefly chat­ted at the cer­e­mony. Ab­bas greeted the fam­i­lies of Peres and Rabin, shak­ing hands and hug­ging dovish Is­raeli lead­ers be­fore he was seated in the front row.

In an un­prece­dented seven-decade po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, Peres was cred­ited with lead­ing the coun­try through some of its most defin­ing mo­ments: creat­ing what is be­lieved to be a nu­clear arse­nal in the 1950s; dis­en­tan­gling its troops from Le­banon and res­cu­ing its econ­omy from triple-digit in­fla­tion in the 1980s; and guid­ing a skep­ti­cal na­tion into peace talks with the Pales­tini­ans in the 1990s.

A pro­tege of David Ben-Gu­rion, Is­rael’s found­ing fa­ther and first prime min­is­ter, Peres served in par­lia­ment for nearly half a cen­tury, held ev­ery ma­jor Cab­i­net post, in­clud­ing de­fense, fi­nance and for­eign af­fairs, and served three brief stints as prime min­is­ter. He was the coun­try’s el­der states­man as its cer­e­mo­nial pres­i­dent be­tween 2007 and 2014.

Peres cre­ated his non­govern­men­tal Peres Cen­ter for Peace, which raised funds and ran pro­grams for co­op­er­a­tion and de­vel­op­ment projects in­volv­ing Is­rael, the Pales­tini­ans and Arab na­tions. He was a huge pro­po­nent of Is­raeli tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion, and gained in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion as a globe-trot­ting celebrity preach­ing peace and co­ex­is­tence.

ABIR SUL­TAN — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama looks at the cas­ket of former Is­raeli leader Shi­mon Peres dur­ing Peres’ fu­neral Fri­day at the Har Herzl ceme­tery in Jerusalem.

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