Shimon Peres was laid to rest Friday in a ceremony attended by thousands of admirers and dozens of international dignitaries - in a final tribute to a man who personified the history of Israel during a remarkable seven-decade political career and who came to be seen by many as a potent symbol of hopes of Mideast peace.
President Obama, former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas headlined a long list of world leaders who converged on Israel’s national cemetery, Mount Herzl, for the event. In a nod to the Palestinian leader, Abbas sat in the front row at the memorial service.
President Obama hailed Peres as a man who showed the world that justice and hope are at the heart of the Zionist ideal and saw “all people as deserving of dignity and respect.”
Wearing a Jewish skullcap as a sign of respect and reverence, Mr. Obama said in his eulogy that Peres understood the Palestinians must be seen as equal in dignity to Jews and therefore must be equal in self-determination.
“Shimon never saw his dream of peace fulfilled,” noted Obama, speaking at Israel’s national cemetery, Mount Herzl. He said Peres believed that the Zionist idea would be protected when Palestinians had a state of their own.
“The region is going through a chaotic time,” the president said. “Threats are ever-present and yet he did not stop dreaming and he did not stop working.”
Mr. Obama noted that he was the 10th U.S president to meet Peres and “fall prey to his charms.” In many ways, he said that Peres reminded him of other giants like Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth, leaders “who speak with depth and knowledge, not in sound bites.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the gathering of world leaders was a testament to Peres’ optimism, quest for peace and love for Israel.
“He was a great man of Israel. He was a great man of the world. Israel grieves for him. The world grieves for him,” Netanyahu said.
Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who held every major office in Israel, including president and prime minister, died Wednesday, two weeks after suffering a stroke. He was 93.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.