TEL AVIV, Israel—Ariel Sharon, Israel’s 11th prime minister was buried on Anemones Hill at his family ranch not far from Gaza on Monday. The nation bid a final farewell to one of its most influential leaders—a man venerated by supporters as a warrior and statesman but reviled in the Arab world as a war criminal. Israel’s President Shimon Peres called him “A military legend in his lifetime.”
After Israeli politicians and international dignitaries honored Sharon, the military funeral carried a more personal tone, with Sharon’s two sons eulogizing their father as an inspiration for the nation.
On a day full of warm eulogies, speakers made only passing references to the exploits that made him such a divisive figure. Sharon died Saturday, eight years after a devastating stroke removed the prime minister from office and left him in a coma from which he never recovered. He was 85.
On Sunday thousands of Israeli citizens paid their final respects to Sharon, passing by his coffin in the Knesset court.
On Monday morning foreign delegates, including U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Middle East international envoy Tony Blair, Czech Prime Minister Jiri Rusnok, and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier attended the ceremony.
’A Man of the Land’
President Peres eulogized Sharon for the last time saying, “Arik was a man of the land: He loved the smell, he cultivated the hills, he sowed and he reaped. He turned the seemingly impossible into endless opportunity.”
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu talked about Sharon as a soldier: “He laid the foundations for the IDF war doctrine, primarily the concept of retaliation and offensive measures in the fight against terrorism.”
Netanyahu had only a few words about Sharon, the politician: “As minister and prime minister he insisted on our right to defend ourselves in this region so that we can live here safely.”
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who spoke at length and in detail about his meeting with Sharon at Shikmim (Sycamore) farm brought up Sharon’s nickname, “a bulldozer.”
Biden also quoted Sharon saying 30 years ago: “We Jews, have a secret weapon, we don’t have any other place to go.” Biden then read an Irish poem and again confirmed U.S. President Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security, “The bond between Israel and the U.S. will never be broken,” Biden said.
At the end of the Knesset ceremony, Sharon’s funeral procession first stopped at Latrun military memorial, where Sharon was wounded during the independence war. Eight Army generals accompanied Sharon’s coffin all the way from the Knesset to its final place.
Sharon’s sons and more than 600 were waiting at Anemones Hill along with hundreds of police forces for security. Not far from there, an Iron Dome anti-rocket battery was in place to defend against possible rockets from Gaza.
Six giant TV screens were installed down the hill to broadcast the burial services to Israelis citizens expected to attend the funeral.
The generals covered the coffin while military hazans sang religious prayers.
Lt. Gen. Chief of Staff Beni Ganz described Sharon as, “A wonderful fusion of a warrior, a dreamer and a man of letters.” Ganz said the army will look to Sharon as model for years to come.
Omri Sharon said to his father: “Look around Ariel, look around and see the people gathered and clustering around the hill. See how they thank you for protecting them. How they love you, how they miss you and bow their heads.”
Gilad Sharon reminded the terrible day when their brother Gur died in an accident: “Pain intensity is not decreasing with time, only the intervals between stabbings are longer, that how Dad himself once put it.”
“Beloved Dad, you are back home,” said Gilad.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.