SYCAMORE RANCH, Israel – On a day marked by military protocol, somber ceremony and informal reflection, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was remembered Monday as a “practical and pragmatic man,” a “bulldozer” who helped shape his nation even as he earned a reputation for ruthlessness from its enemies.
Sharon, who died Saturday at 85 after years in a stroke-induced coma, was hailed by world leaders in a public memorial service in Jerusalem before taking a last journey to his family’s ranch in southern Israel, where he was laid to rest beside his second wife in a burial that combined military pomp with traditional Jewish ritual.
Both as a military commander and politician, Sharon was an imposing figure who left an indelible stamp on modern Israel. Whether it was for better or worse was a topic of bitter debate, but Monday was a day for those who would lionize him.
As the day began, Sharon’s coffin lay covered in the Israeli flag on a raised platform in a wide plaza outside the Knesset, or parliament, where he had served for 30 years as a lawmaker, minister and, finally, prime minister.
At a formal state ceremony, President Shimon Peres, the country’s longest-serving public figure, eulogized the man who had been his colleague and friend since their first meeting more than half a century ago.
“You cultivated the land with your scythe and defended it with your sword. Your fingerprints are on every diplomatic situation and every military outpost,” the president said of Sharon.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden recalled his many meetings with Sharon over 30 years, describing a powerfully built man whose presence filled a room.
As young paratroopers stood by in an honor guard, Israeli army generals lowered the coffin into the ground. Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Israel’s chief of staff, saluted Sharon and delivered a eulogy to the commander he called “a fusion between warrior and dreamer” who shaped the nation’s army.