World bows as Peres gets his final send-off


On the Jerusalem hill where Israel buries its leaders, they mourned him as a peacemaker and a father; as a man steeped in history who was always looking to the future; and as a statesman who influenced the great and the good across the world but considered himself "shy".

There were delegations from 70 countries on Mount Herzl to watch Shimon Peres go to his final resting place, close to past presidents including Chaim Herzog and Yitzhak Navon. They came from as nearby as Egypt and Jordan, and as far away as Australia.

Among the eulogies were long labours of love, such as Barack Obama's highly emotional tribute. Many tears were shed as the powerful voice of David D'Or singing Avinu Malkeinu from the Rosh Hashanah service echoed around Mount Herzl. It was one of Mr Peres's favourite songs.

Notwithstanding some spats over the seating plan, with some MKs feeling they deserved to sit closer to the front than had been planned, it was a reflective event. Mourners discussed Mr Peres's legacy, and his successor as President, Reuven Rivlin, adopted a humility rarely seen in Israeli politics. A right-winger who himself spoke harshly of the Oslo process, he said that those who opposed Mr Peres's peace efforts went too far: "Shimon, I unashamedly confess, on the eve of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, at your graveside among the graves of the leaders of our nation, your forgiveness must be asked... There were years in which red lines were crossed between ideological disputes and words and deeds which had no place."

Bill Clinton paid tribute to Mr Peres as a "wise champion of our common humanity" and "Israel's biggest dreamer." Mr Obama likened him to other "giants of the 20th century" including Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called him a "senior partner in the national rebirth of the Jewish people".

In surprisingly brief speeches, Mr Peres's children captured the softer side of their father. Yoni Peres spoke of his "sensitive and caring" character, Chemi Peres mentioned the adoration he had for his grandchildren, and daughter, Tsvia Walden, recalled her childhood. She said: "He was described as a great negotiator, as someone who always found a way to get what he wanted. To me he was a young man who used his creative skills to get us to eat, who cut sandwiches into triangles and diamonds. 'Try this. It's a Burmese sandwich.' My father pulled out all the creative stops and used every trick of the trade to tempt us to open our mouths and eat and grow."

Later, at the graveside, Dr Walden changed the words of the Kaddish prayer. God should bring peace "to us and all of his people, Israel", she said, using the normal liturgy, and then added: "And to all humankind."

Despite Dr Walden's heartfelt prayer, there was a recognition that the chances of Mr Peres's peace efforts being translated to reality were limited. The author Amos Oz asked in his eulogy where today's brave leaders were, saying: "Where are Shimon Peres's successors?"

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attended in the face of inevitable outrage among Palestinians and shook hands with Mr Netanyahu, but few observers saw this as a symbol of improving bilateral relations. Meanwhile, the tensions between Jews and Arabs in Israel were underscored by the fact that politicians from the Arab political faction in Knesset, the Joint List, stayed away from the funeral.

Diaspora leaders who flew in for the burial included Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who said afterwards: "We saw at the cemetery the depth of feeling for this man among so many people - royalty, presidents, and normal people."

The most high-profile mourner from Britain was Prince Charles, who wore a royal crest kippah at the cemetery. He told Mr Rivlin afterwards about his "very fond memories" of meeting Mr Peres, who "tried so hard to achieve the peace that is badly needed."

Prince Charles used the Israel trip to pay a visit to the grave of his grandmother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, who helped save Jews during the Shoah and asked to be buried in Jerusalem.

Prince Charles received a warm welcome in Jerusalem, but his hastily-arranged trip - reminiscent of his visit for Yitzhak Rabin's funeral - revived frustration among Israeli officials that they cannot persuade British royals to make a scheduled visit.

At Mount Herzl, Lord Polak, the Conservative peer and former director of Conservative Friends of Israel, was full of praise for Prince Charles for making the trip, but added: "However much it is appreciated that they come for a funeral, they should come when there isn't a funeral."

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