JERUSALEM — Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was remembered as a man of courage and strength both on the battlefield and in the political arena during his public funeral.
“Sharon was a complex man who lived in complex times in a complex neighborhood,” U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said during the memorial ceremony on Jan. 13 at the Knesset plaza in Jerusalem.
Sharon, said Biden, “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. His North Star 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, 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 Road Map for Peace, 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 Defense 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 Sharon 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 Museum and Memorial, where 15 Israel Defense Forces major generals saluted the late military and political leader. Some drivers stopped on the highway for the procession, got out of their cars and saluted the military vehicle as it drove by; others filmed it on their cellphones.
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 buried next to his wife, Lily.
Toward the end of the funeral the IDF confirmed that two rockets had been fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel.
The rockets both struck open areas without causing any damage but were symbolically aimed in the direction of Sharon's Sycamore farm where the funeral was taking place.
In response to the attacks, the Israeli Air Force struck two terror sites located in the Gaza Strip.
"Hamas and its terrorist servants are not immune; it is our moral obligation and calling to protect Israel against such atrocious acts,” said an IDF Spokesman.
To see video coverage and photos of the memorial ceremony in Jerusalem, click on the video icon at the top right of the screen.