Ex-Israeli President and Nobel laureate Shimon Peres was laid to rest Friday in front of at least 80 world leaders who attended his funeral. The former Prime Minister and one of the founding fathers of Israel died Wednesday aged 93.
His funeral, held at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, saw the largest gathering of international dignitaries in Israel since the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin, a former prime minister who shared Peres’ Nobel Prize for the Oslo Accords.
Peres’ coffin was carried out of the Israeli parliament a little after 8:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m. EDT) by eight military pallbearers. His family followed the coffin. A member of the military who recited the kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, led this procession.
President Barack Obama’s Air Force One reached the Ben Guriuon airport in Tel Aviv just as the coffin was loaded into a hearse to get to the cemetery. Obama was accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and 18 lawmakers from Congress.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave an emotional address calling Peres “a great man of the world.”
“Shimon lived a life of purpose,” he reportedly said as he led the eulogies. “He soared to incredible heights. He swept so many with his vision and his hope. He was a great man of Israel.”
“Israel grieves for him. The world grieves for him,” Netanyahu said, addressing the thousands gathered at the cemetery. He added that the two had “never glossed over” their differences of opinion.
“In one of our nearly night-long discussions, we addressed a fundamental question: from Israel’s perspective, what is paramount – security or peace?” Netanyahu reportedly said. “Shimon enthusiastically replied: ‘Bibi, peace is the true security. If there will be peace, there will be security.’ And I responded to him: ‘Shimon, in the Middle East, security is essential for achieving peace and for maintaining it.’”
Former President Bill Clinton who helped negotiate the Oslo Accords also spoke at the funeral calling Peres Israel’s “biggest dreamer.”
“He imagined all the things the rest of us could do. He started life as Israel's brightest student, became its best teacher and ended up its biggest dreamer,” the former president said. Clinton called the Nobel laureate a “wide champion of our common humanity.”
President Obama closed the eulogies telling the gathered that the presence of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the funeral was a “gesture and reminder of the unfinished business” of the Israel-Palestine peace process. He added that Peres understood the need for a Palestinian state and said the 93-year-old never saw “his dream of peace” turn to reality.
“Out of the hardships of the diaspora, he found room in his heart for others who suffered. Even in the face of terror attacks, even after repeated failures in negotiations, he recognized Palestinian self-determination,” Obama said. “He believed the Zionist idea would be best protected when Palestinians too had a state of their own.”
“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,” Obama added. “This was Shimon Peres's life. This is the State of Israel. This is the story of the Jewish people during the last century.”
Before the start of the funeral, Abbas and Netanyahu were seen shaking hands and spoke to each other briefly. Abbas was heard telling Netanyahu, “Long time, long time” as the two leaders shook hands, according to the Guardian. Abbas signed the Oslo Accords with Peres in 1993.
Also present at the funeral were Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, European Council President Donald Tusk, French President François Hollande, German President Joachim Cauck, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Japan’s ex-Defense Minister Gen Nakatani, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Prince Charles from Britain and several more.
Many in the West and within Israel praised Peres as a peacemaker, but to many in Palestine and in the Arab nations, his record is marred by his involvement in the Arab-Israeli wars, the occupation of Palestinian territory and his support for settlement building before he started his work on Oslo.