Shimon Peres remembered as ‘man of vision’ at Jerusalem funeral

Shimon Peres was laid to rest on Friday 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 potent symbol of hopes of Middle East 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, Mount Herzl, for the event.

Peres’s office expected 90 delegations from 70 countries, also including French President François Hollande, German President Joachim Gauck, Prince Charles of Britain, former British PM David Cameron and King Felipe VI of Spain.

The Canadian delegation included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former prime ministers Stephen Harper and Jean Chrétien, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion and interim federal Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose.

Peres died Wednesday at the age of 93. He had suffered a stroke earlier in the month.

Mideast Israel Peres Funeral

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre, attends the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Mount Herzel national cemetery in Jerusalem. (Ariel Schalit/The Associated Press)

Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, delivering the first in a string of eulogies, praised Peres, saying, “you were not only a man of vision, you were a man of deeds.”

Rivlin, who succeeded him as president in 2014, says Peres had the ability “to conceive what seemed to be the inconceivable, and see it to fruition.”

Abbas, Netanyahu have brief exchange

A military honour guard took Peres’s casket from the parliament building early Friday and escorted it and his family to a waiting vehicle. The honour guard recited “Kaddish,” the Jewish prayer for the dead.

The casket then made the short journey to Mount Herzl, Israel’s national cemetery, where Peres is to be buried alongside most of the country’s past leaders.


U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu were seated next to each other and both eulogized Shimon Peres at the funeral in Jerusalem. (Jim Hollander/EPA)

Before the ceremony, Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shook hands and exchanged brief words, and Abbas hugged some members of Peres’s family.

“Long time, long time,” Abbas told Netanyahu, while also greeting the prime minister’s wife Sara.

Welcoming Abbas, as participants recorded the encounter on their cellphones, Netanyahu said of his attendance: “It’s something that I appreciate very much on behalf of our people and on behalf of us.”

Abbas’s presence, Obama said in his 20-minute speech, was a reminder of the “unfinished business of peace” in the Middle East.

“Even in the face of terrorist attacks, even after repeated disappointments at the negotiation table, [Peres] insisted that as human beings, Palestinians must be seen as equal in dignity to Jews and must therefore be equal in self-determination,” Obama said.

‘We were both right’

In his eulogy Netanyahu said Peres “was a great man of Israel. He was a great man of the world. Israel grieves for him. The world grieves for him.”


A still image taken from a video shows Israeli honour guard lowering the coffin of former Israeli President Shimon Peres into the grave. (Pool via Reuters TV)

Netanyahu admitted that he and Peres, being on opposite ends of the political spectrum, sometimes argued until they were like “two tired boxers.”

“We argued what is more important for Israel – he said peace, I said security. We were both right. We need security but it is only a means to an end.”

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

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 defence, 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.

‘Israel’s brightest student’

Peres shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in reaching an interim peace agreement with the Palestinians, alongside late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and former PM Rabin.

Clinton, who helped host the signing of the peace agreement at the White House, arrived Thursday in Jerusalem and was among thousands who paid respects to the casket of Peres in the plaza outside the Knesset.

Clinton also spoke at Friday’s service, dismissing 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,” Clinton said.

“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.”


Former U.S. President Bill Clinton touches the flag-draped coffin of former Israeli President Shimon Peres, after eulogizing him at Mount Herzl. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Peres’s daughter, Tzvia Walden, told the mourners that Israel’s ninth president was a loving family man at home.

She says her father loved knowledge and was “astonished” if he lent her a book and she had not read it by the next day.

His son Yoni says his father was asked what he would like on his tombstone. He says Peres answered without hesitation: “He was too young to die.”

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