Shimon Peres funeral: ‘Israel grieves for him’
JERUSALEM — The body of former Israeli Prime Minister and President Shimon Peres was laid to rest Friday in a funeral attended by world leaders flanked by heavy security.
Early Friday morning, Peres’ casket was loaded onto a hearse for the drive from the Knesset — the Israeli parliament of which he was a member for more than 45 years — to the national cemetery at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl where he was buried.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Obama says presence of Abbas “is a gesture and a reminder of the unfinished business of peace.” US President Bill Clinton says Peres “started off life as Israel’s brightest student, became its best teacher, and ended up its biggest dreamer.” Netanyahu on Peres: “Israel grieves for him, the world grieves for him, but we find hope in his legacy, as does the world.”
A long list of dignitaries and foreign leaders arrived in Jerusalem to pay their respects, including President Barack Obama, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and the leaders of France and Germany.
A video tweeted by a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed him shaking hands with President Abbas.
The moment appears to have taken place before the two leaders entered the funeral.
Abbas took his seat in the large white tent on Mount Herzl, while Obama sat next to Chemi Peres, one of Shimon Peres’ sons.
Around 8,000 police officers have been deployed at key locations to protect world leaders amid fears of a “lone wolf” terrorist attack.
Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told CNN Thursday that there was “no concrete intelligence whatsoever” about any potential attacks.
Israeli police confirmed in a statement Friday that a right-wing activist was detained for questioning on suspicion of planning to “carry out an action during the funeral of Shimon Peres.”
Police did not identify the suspect, say where the detention took place or what they suspected was planned.
In the final eulogy of the service, Obama made reference to the presence of President Abbas, stating it was a “gesture and a reminder of the unfinished business of peace.”
He also said that Peres recognized the need for a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
“Out of the hardships of the diaspora, he found room in his heart for others who suffered,” Obama said
“Even in the face of terror attacks, even after repeated failures in negotiations, he recognized Palestinian self-determination.
“He believed the Zionist idea would be best protected when Palestinians too had a state of their own.”
Obama lamented that Peres “never saw his dream of peace fulfilled.”
He recalled his time spent with Peres fondly, a man who was continually enthusiastic about his grandchildren, his love of technology and “a love of words and books and history.”
“Shimon showed us that justice and hope are at the heart of the Zionist idea,” Obama said.
“A free life in a homeland regained. A secure life in a nation that can defend itself, by itself. A full life in friendship with nations that can be counted on as allies, always.
“This was Shimon Peres’s life. This is the State of Israel. This is the story of the Jewish people during the last century.”
“Great man of Israel”
In his eulogy, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that Peres had “lived a life of purpose… he was a great man of Israel, he was a great man of the world.”
He added: “Israel grieves for him, the world grieves for him, but we find hope in his legacy, as does the world.”
Former US president Clinton made an impassioned speech, claiming that Peres’ “critics described him as a naive, over-optimistic dreamer. They were only wrong about the naive part.
“He knew exactly what he was doing in being overly optimistic… he never gave up on anybody, I mean anybody.
“He started off life as Israel’s brightest student, became its best teacher, and ended up its biggest dreamer.”
Clinton added that in Peres’ honor, “we remember Shimon Peres’ luminous smile, and imagine.”
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who gave the first eulogy, said that Peres was “the man of whom we thought time could never stop.”
“Your stubborn faith in mankind and the good of people — in the victory of progress over ignorance, in the victory of hope over fear — was your eternal fountain of youth, thanks to which you were the eternal fountain of youth for all of us.”
Israeli writer Amos Oz, a friend of Peres and one of the country’s most outspoken political doves, used his eulogy to criticize the current Israeli and Palestinian leaders and insist the two sides must continue working for peace.
“Peace is not only possible, it is necessary, because we are not going anywhere. We have nowhere to go. The Palestinians also are not going anywhere. They have nowhere to go… where are the brave leaders who will stand up and realize this?” Oz said.
Each of Peres’ three children spoke at the ceremony.
Tsvia Walden, Peres’ daughter, said her father “had a long and good life.”
“I will remember him during this past year at Friday night dinners at our home, when he was the first to rise for Kiddush, holding the booklet with the Shabbat songs printed in tiny letters, trying to make out the words of the songs through his thick lenses, never skipping a word, singing at the top of his lungs.”
Yoni Peres, one of his sons, said his father was “sensitive and caring towards all people.”
“He wasn’t ruled by his ego, he treated everyone as an equal and was always attentive, interested and supportive,” he said.
“He loved his family dearly, and with all the new members that joined us.”
His other son Chemi spoke of his father as a man who never spared any of his energy.
“You made the most of every moment in your life, up to very the end,” he said.
“We will remember you as one whose greatness stemmed from a deep passion to serve a great cause, and not out of a desire for power.”
Israelis pay respects
Peres’ body was lying in state Thursday at the Knesset ahead of Friday’s funeral ceremony.
A steady trickle of mourners streamed past police and journalists to pay their last respects, with many stopping to take selfies with the flag-draped coffin in the background.
An estimated 25,000 people passed in the first eight hours of public visitations, Knesset spokesman Yotam Yakir said.
Some expressed admiration and respect for the man, even though they disagreed with him politically.
“My heart wanted to come and take part in this day. We say goodbye to an icon that represents Israel in the world and I wanted to thank him,” said a 25-year-old Jerusalemite who identified himself as Jonathan D.
But, he added, “I was against a lot of things and ideas he supported related to the Palestinians and the peace process. Oslo was not a benefit for Israel. But I am sure that Mr. Peres did those things because he thought it was the best thing for Israel.”
Reut Ran supported Peres on the peace process, but fears it has no future without him.
“Not with the political climate here today becoming more right-wing and more violent,” said Ran, who was born in Israel, spent 30 years in the US and moved back to Israel six years ago.
Presidents, royals also attend
Prince Charles and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also attended, along with former UK Prime Ministers Tony Blair and David Cameron.
The presidents of France, Germany, Ukraine, the Ivory Coast, Togo, Mexico, Lithuania, Serbia and Romania and NATO’s secretary general and the grand duke of Luxembourg, among others were also due to attend.
Arab leaders were notably absent, although Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry was present while the King of Morocco was expected to send a representative.
Jordan’s Jawad Anani, deputy prime minister for economic affairs and minister for investment affairs, was also in attendance.