Thousands gather for the funeral of Israel’s ‘man of peace’ Shimon Peres

by admin on December 20th, 2018

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks from the stage past the casket of former Israeli President Shimon Peres. Photo: CAROLYN KASTER Chemi Peres, son of former Irsaeli President Shimon Peres, hugs US President Barack Obama during the funeral. Photo: ARIEL SCHALIT

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, center, sits alongside European Council President Donald Tusk. Photo: ABIR SULTAN

Knesset guards carry the flag-draped coffin during the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Mount Herzel national cemetery in Jerusalem. Photo: Ariel Schalit

Britain’s Prince Charles, left, and French President Francois Hollande talk prior to the funeral. Photo: ARIEL SCHALIT

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin pays his respects. Photo: ARIEL SCHALIT

Former US President Bill Clinton passes the flag-draped coffin of former Israeli President Shimon Peres. Photo: ARIEL SCHALIT

Israeli soldiers stand with wreaths as the funeral. Photo: ABIR SULTAN

Security guards patrol ahead of the funeral. Photo: MENAHEM KAHANA

Family members of former Israeli President Shimon Peres follow his coffin at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Photo: LIOR MIZRAHI

Members of a Knesset guard carry the flag-draped coffin of the former Israeli leader Shimon Peres at Mount Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem on Friday. Photo: Israeli Government/Getty Images

Jerusalem: The crowd was silent but for the sound of cameras and sobs and the lone voice of a soldier leading the coffin in a song of mourning at the funeral of Israeli statesman and visionary Shimon Peres.

Peres, who died this week aged 93, was the first man to hold positions of both president and prime minister in Israel. He was honoured as a father, husband, leader of vision, and above all, a man of peace.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said although they were political rivals, they became close friends. Netanyahu described him as a leader of stature in our world and “wondrous”.

He said the fact that so many leaders came from around the world was a testament to Peres’ optimism. “The world grieves for home but we find hope in his legacy as does the world”, Netanyahu said.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, also a political rival from the Likud party, said Peres’ beliefs “remain uninterred, as a single man who carried the entire nation on the wings of vision” with “stubborn faith” in mankind.

Peres, a thinker, polymath and intellectual, was born in 1923 in Poland and emigrated to Israel In 1934 where he worked as a shepherd and dairy farmer.

Rivlin asked for forgiveness in disagreeing him in the years in which “red lines” were crossed in political rivalry. But “even when we did not agree with you we wanted to believe that perhaps you were right”, Rivlin said.

US President Barack Obama and and former president Bill Clinton led the mourners from dozens of countries, including Prince Charles, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Francois Hollande and former president Nicolas Sarkozy, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Australian Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove.

Not since the 1995 funeral of Peres’ assassinated rival Yitzhak Rabin have so many world leaders gathered in Israel. Two thousand people sat on plastic chairs under a great tent at Mt Herzl national cemetery on a hill overlooking Jerusalem, where Rabin and Israel’s first female Prime Minister Golda Meir were buried before him.

Peres would have been pleased. An unnamed aide quoted in the leading daily Haaretz said Peres in a playful aside after Rabin’s service had asked, “Did you see how many people came to his funeral?”, and bit his lip as if to rue, “He beat me again”.

The same aide was quoted saying Peres was insulted that Rabin’s assassin had faced him at the bottom of the stairs but let him pass, because he wasn’t important enough.

Security of a scale and intensity unseen since Rabin’s funeral surrounded the service.

Guards from the Israeli armed forces were stationed at intervals along all roads leading to the cemetery while long queues waited to pass security checks to get in.

It was the first time the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has set foot on Israeli soil in six years.

The “meeting” of Netanyahu and Abbas meant Peres achieved in death a feat which has eluded world leaders – including Obama – for the past several years.

Then, as now, they came for peace, to honour his legacy of hope in the Oslo Accord and the two state solution, even if the Accord he crafted was never completed and the dream of the Gaza Strip as a Hong Kong-style metropolis has proven fantasy.

The question was left hanging in the hot blue sky: with his passing, how many Israelis will share his passionate hope for peace.

Tributes for Peres

US President Barack Obama said the presence of Palestinian Authority president Abbas was a gesture and reminder of the unfinished business of peace. He said the region “is going through a chaotic time and threats are ever present” yet Peres “did not stop dreaming and did not stop working”.

He said Peres was labelled naive by his critics on the right, yet “the people who called him naive depend on the defence architecture that he himself helped to build”.

Although he had seen the worst of inhumanity – he was a teenager when his grandfather was burned to death in the Polish village where Peres grew up – it had never hardened Peres’ heart.

Obama said he was the 10th US President since John F Kennedy to succumb to Peres’ charms. When the two men met in the Oval Office, there was a shared sense of wonder at the sheer unlikeliness of either of them being there, thanks to the extraordinary histories and opportunities offered by each of their “magnificent” countries.

“It is why he believed in miracles, because I Israel he saw a miracle come true,” he said.

He said Peres’ life was the story of Israel of the last century. Obama said Peres from an early age bore witness to the cruelty people could inflict in each other and the “particular madness of anti-Semitism which had run like a stain through history”.

He said Peres showed us that justice and hope are at the heart of the Zionist ideal.

“He believed the Zionists cause would be best protected when Palestinians had a state of their own,” he said.

“Now his work is in the hands of Israel’s next generation, and its friends.”

According to Peres, the message of the Jewish people to mankind was that faith and moral vision can prevail over all adversity, Obama said.

Netanyahu recalled one of the nearly night-long discussions when he asked Peres which took precedence, peace or security, to which Peres replied, “if there is peace! there will be security.”

Despite their differences, the two men above all shared a commitment to “ensure the future of the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

He said that “in the end we were both right” and that “peace will not be achieved other than by permanently preserving our power”.

“Bur power is not the objective” Prime Minister Netanyahu said. “In the end the goal is to promote prosperity and peace” for the nation, the region “and for our Palestinian neighbours”.

“Shimon also reached the conclusion that no one camp has the monopoly on truth,” Netanyahu said.

Former US President Bill Clinton said he was honoured to work with Peres towards forging a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine and later as a friend.

He said Peres was always able to move beyond even the most crushing of setbacks to the possibilities of a new day, and that he worked for the children of the world.

Describing Peres as “our complicated and brilliant friend”, Clinton said: “The tomorrows he envisioned are already being lived here in Israel”, referring to Peres’ championing of science and innovation which has transformed Israel’s economy.

People through the region were trying to break the mental and material chains that had held them in bondage thanks in no small part to Peres, Clinton said.

“He never gave up on anyone.”

“Shimon imagined all the things the rest of us could do … He lived 93 years in a state of constant wonder over the unbelievable potential of all of us to rise above our fears,” Clinton said.

“He had to master his own demons, forgive himself for his own mistakes and get over his disappointments. The monumental effort it required to do that grew his heart to be bigger than his brain, which is really saying something.” according to Clinton.

“It was what kept him forever young.”

He asked the world to remember Peres’ luminous smile, and to “imagine”, as Peres had never stopped imagining.

Peres’ daughter Professor Tsvia Walden remembered a creative, loving father who cut sandwiches into diamonds and said “Try this, it’s a Burmese sandwich” to get his children to eat.

She said for all of his 93 years he was a man in love – with his wife Sonia, who pre-deceased him, “with his family, with the people of Israel, with the state of Israel”.

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