Dignitaries gathered in Jerusalem Monday for the funeral of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, paying tribute to the leader.
Vice President Joe Biden praised Sharon’s leadership and his connection with the land of Israel, in particular his love for working at his ranch in the Negev desert.
In his eulogy — which included quotes from the Bible and William Shakespeare — Biden said that Sharon was guided by his north star which was the survival of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Biden modified a quote from Irish writer James Joyce, saying “the Land of Israel, the Negev is etched on Ariel Sharon’s soul.”
“The security of his people was always Arik’s unwavering mission — a non-breakable commitment to the future of Jews, whether 30 years or 300 years from now,” Biden said, using Sharon’s nickname.
The IDF Spokesman reported Monday afternoon that two rockets were fired at southern Israel as Sharon’s funeral was ending. It posted on Twitter:
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) January 13, 2014
According to the Times of Israel, the rockets fell in an open area in the Sha’ar Hanegev region less than five miles from the Sharon ranch where Sharon was buried and that there were no injuries or damage.
The Times reported that rockets launched by terrorist groups in Gaza had in the past landed on Sharon’s 1,000-acre property.
Speaking at the funeral, Biden called Sharon “a complex man who lived in complex times in a complex neighborhood.”
The vice president further said that Sharon “surprised many” in his decision in 2005 to withdraw from Gaza. He praised “the political courage it took, whether you agreed with him or not, when he told 10,000 Israelis to leave their homes in Gaza in order to, in his perspective, strengthen” his country. “I can’t think of a more difficult and controversial decision that’s been made.”
“He left us too soon,” Biden said, “but the work of trying to reach peace continues.”
Biden described his meetings with Sharon in which “you immediately understood how he acquired … the nickname ‘bulldozer.’ He was indomitable.”
Sharon died on Saturday at the age of 85 after spending eight years in a coma brought on by a stroke.
The funeral ceremony began at the Knesset in Jerusalem after which the body of the former general was taken for a military ceremony at Latrun, the site of a famous battle of the 1948 War of Independence where Sharon was severely wounded.
Later, the procession headed to Sharon’s Sycamore Ranch in southern Israel for burial of the prime minister with full military honors.
Other members of the delegation representing the U.S. included Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D), Rep. Eliot Engel, D-NY, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro and former ambassador Daniel Kurtzer.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the funeral, “As a minister and a prime minister Sharon stood for our right to defend ourselves and live with security.”
Netanyahu praised Sharon for his key role in building the Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) “heritage of valor” and said that he “laid the foundations of the battle doctrine of the IDF, the doctrine of reprisal and initiative in the war against terrorism.”
Though the two “didn’t always agree,” Netanyahu said, “Arik understood that in matters of our existence and security, we must stand firm. We are sticking to these principles.”
“Israel will continue to fight terror. Israel will continue to strive for peace, while protecting our security. Israel will act in every way to deny Iran the capability of arming itself with nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu added.
Before the funeral began on Monday, the IDF said that two rockets were launched from Hamas-controlled Gaza into Israel; however, the rockets apparently fell short and landed in the Gaza strip. This was a separate incident from the firing that occurred as the funeral was concluding.
The IDF deployed two Iron Dome batteries around Sharon’s ranch to protect visitors at the burial of the former prime minister anticipating a possible rocket attack from Gaza.
The Jerusalem Post reported Monday that this was a response to concern Palestinian extremists would try to disrupt the funeral, as the ranch is located close to Gaza.
“I hope no crazy man in Gaza says ‘They are all there, so let’s finish them,’” a Sharon associate told the Post. “There will be massive security, so we expect the event to pass quietly.”
The Israeli paper described the preparations made for foreign media coverage, which included one lesson learned from the South African experience.
“Following the scandal at the funeral of the late South African president Nelson Mandela, the most professional interpreters in Israel will translate the ceremonies into English,” the Post reported.
Like others, Israeli President Shimon Peres used Sharon’s nickname when delivering his tribute. “Arik was a man of the land,” Peres said. “He never stopped looking forward to the day when its children would live in security, when its sons would return to their borders, and peace would visit the Promised Land.”
President Barack Obama over the weekend called Sharon “a leader who dedicated his life to the state of Israel.”
This story has been updated to include reports of two rockets fired from Gaza as the funeral was concluding.