JERUSALEM — Former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon was remembered at his funeral as a man of courage and strength, both on the battlefield and in the political arena.
“Sharon was a complex man who lived in complex times in a complex neighbourhood,” U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden said during the memorial ceremony Monday at the Knesset plaza in Jerusalem.
Sharon, Biden said, “engendered strong opinions. But like all historic leaders, he had a north star that guided him. The north star, which he never – in my observation – deviated from… was the survival of the State of Israel and the Jewish People. ”
Former British prime minister Tony Blair, who currently serves as the ambassador of the Mideast Peace Quartet (the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia), recalled that Sharon was not comfortable in formal meetings, tending to repeat himself or read from prepared texts.
Blair said that when Sharon accepted an invitation to his home for dinner, he saw “a different Arik – warm-hearted, humorous and charming, and passionate.”
Blair said that despite agreeing to the failed 2003 Road Map for peace that proposed a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians, as well as evacuating Gaza settlements and forming the centrist Kadima party, Sharon’s “strategic goal never wavered: [Israel] had to be protected for future generations. When that meant fighting, he fought. When that meant making peace, he sought peace with the same iron determination.”
Israeli President Shimon Peres called Sharon “a friend, a leader, a military chief.” He continued: “Arik, you were a rare man. You turned the impossible into great opportunities. Rest in peace, great leader.”
Sharon and current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not always agree with each other, Netanyahu admitted during his eulogy, but they served in each other’s governments and supported each other “for Israel’s sake,” he said.
Netanyahu called Sharon “one of the greatest generals that the Jewish People and the Israel Defence Forces had ever known.”
Shimon “Kacha” Kahaner, who fought alongside Sharon in the fabled Unit 101 in the 1950s, called Sharon, “my commander, teacher and rabbi.
“Arik’s strength came from his love of the land, and from what the land gave him. It was a two-way relationship,” Kahaner recalled.
Ze’ev “Zambish” Hever, a settler leader and close friend, called Sharon a “hero of Israel,” and called his last two years in office, referring to the expulsion from Gaza settlements, “painful and difficult.”
“The questions go unanswered. But as you commanded, we will not give up. We will not give up,” he said.
Some 1,000 guests attended the public funeral, including Knesset members, cabinet ministers, the military leadership, and 21 delegations from other countries.
Sharon’s casket was taken to the Latrun Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum, where 15 IDF major generals saluted the late military and political leader.
The convoy then continued to Sharon’s Sycamore Ranch in the Negev for a private funeral attended by family and close friends, after which Sharon was to be buried next to his wife, Lily.