World leaders attend funeral of Shimon Peres in Israel
Obama pays tribute to ‘dear friend’, former president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate
Shimon Peres has been laid to rest in a ceremony attended by scores of international leaders including US president Barack Obama, who said Israel’s ninth president had shown that “justice and hope” are at the heart of the Zionist ideal.
Mr Obama was joined by former US president Bill Clinton and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas for the event in Israel’s national cemetery, Mount Herzl, in Jerusalem. In a nod to the Palestinian leader, Mr Abbas sat in the front row at the memorial service.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan represented the Irish Government, while UK dignitaries included the Prince of Wales, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson and former prime ministers David Cameron and Tony Blair.
Mr Peres, considered one of the founding fathers of Israel, died on Wednesday at the age of 93 after suffering complications following a stroke.
In his eulogy, Mr Obama said: “Shimon never saw his dream of peace fulfilled. And yet he did not stop dreaming, and he did not stop working.”
He said Mr Peres never tired, never dwelt 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 honour Shimon Peres, but love him. The last of the founding generation is now gone.
“Toda rabah haver yakar,” he added — Hebrew for “thank you so much dear friend”.
Mr Peres was a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who held every major office in Israel, including president and prime minister.
Friday’s funeral was Israel’s largest gathering of international dignitaries since the funeral of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a Jewish nationalist in 1995.
Mr Clinton, who was US president when Mr Peres negotiated a historic interim peace accord with the Palestinians in 1993, described the ex-Israeli leader as a “wide champion of our common humanity”.
He dismissed critics who had described Mr Peres as a naive dreamer. He recalled a meeting with Mr Peres where Israeli and Arab children sang John Lennon’s “Imagine” together.
Mr Clinton added: “He started life as Israel’s brightest student, became its best teacher and ended up its biggest dreamer.
“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.”
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the gathering of world leaders was a testament to Mr Peres’ optimism, his quest for peace and his love for Israel.
‘The world grieves’
“He was a great man of Israel. He was a great man of the world. Israel grieves for him. The world grieves for him.”
Mr Peres and the hard-line Mr Netanyahu were fierce political rivals, but Mr Netanyahu said they enjoyed a strong personal relationship.
He said: “I loved you. We all loved you. Farewell Shimon. Dear man. Great leader.”
Mr Peres’ casket lay in state on Thursday outside the parliament building, where thousands of people came to pay their respects. Early on Friday, an honour guard escorted the casket, together with Mr Peres’ family, along the short route to the cemetery.
After the funeral, the casket was led to the gravesite by eight members of an honour guard, before being lowered into the ground in a plot alongside those of two other prime ministers, Mr Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir.
While Mr 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. Mr Abbas, however, was one of the lone Arab voices to express his sadness over Mr Peres’ death, and his aides said he wanted to recognise the former Israeli leader’s years of efforts to promote peace.
Mr Abbas and Mr Netanyahu, who have barely spoken to one another during the past seven years, shook hands and briefly chatted at the ceremony.
In a seven-decade political career, Mr 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 sceptical nation into peace talks with the Palestinians in the 1990s.