Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was laid to rest Monday at his ranch in southern Israel as the nation bid a final farewell to one of its most colorful and influential leaders.
In a reminder of the ever-present conflict, Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip launched four rockets on Monday, including two that hit several miles from Sharon's ranch shortly after his funeral. No injuries were reported. The Israeli Air Force responded, attacking two terror sites in the central and southern Gaza Strip. Direct hits on these terror infrastructure sites were confirmed, the Israel Defense Forces said.
Some 1,500 people attended Sharon's funeral, including numerous political and military leaders from Israel and abroad.
"He was indomitable," U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said at the funeral. "But like all historic leaders, all real leaders, he had a north star that guided him. A north star from which he never, in my observation, never deviated. His north star was the survival of the State of Israel and the Jewish people wherever they resided."
"Positions, parties, policies, he could leave considerable debris in his wake," said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "But he had the imagination to know that genuine peace, if attainable with honor and dignity both for Arabs and Israelis, is the anchor ultimately for Israel's security."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "Arik was a man of actions, pragmatic, and his pragmatism was rooted in deep emotion, deep emotion for the country and deep emotion for the Jewish people," referring to Sharon by his popular nickname.
"You were the shoulder on which Israel's security rested," President Shimon Peres said. "The story of your life is bound to the story of this country. And your life was dedicated to the life of this country. Your footprints are imprinted on every hill and in every valley. You cultivated the land with your scythe and defended it with your sword."
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz also eulogized Sharon, saying: "Many titles accompanied you over the years, but it seems this title was most fitting: commander. ... In the name of the entire IDF and in the name of generations of combat soldiers and commanders in the past, present and future, I salute you today with infinite gratitude and recognition."
Sharon's two sons eulogized their father as an inspiration for the nation.
Sharon died on 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 at the time of his death.
His younger son, Gilad, re-enacted his final moments: in a hospital room, with music playing, family members chatting and his grandchildren running about.
"And only the hero of the play is lying motionless," he said, pausing. "I hold your hand and stroke your face, the face of my dying father. Beloved father, you have come home."
"They say it's impossible to live two weeks without kidneys. So they say. They said it was impossible to cross the Suez Canal in the Yom Kippur War, until you led the operation and decided the [outcome of the] war. They said there is no choice, that new immigrants from the Soviet Union will have to stay in tents, but you saw to it that there would not be a single new immigrant without a roof over his head. They said it was impossible to overcome Palestinian terror at the beginning of last decade. So they said. You decided on Operation Defensive Shield, and created order that remains until today."
Sharon's other son Omri also addressed his father a final time.
"Look around, and see the nation gathering around this hilltop. Look and see how they thank you for guarding them. How they appreciate you protecting them and leading them. How they love you and miss you and bow a head. You were worthy of such praise," he said.
One of Israel's greatest and most divisive figures, Sharon rose through the ranks of the military, later moving into politics and overcoming scandal and controversy to become prime minister.
He spent most of his life battling Arab enemies and promoting Jewish settlement activities. But in a surprising about-face, he led a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, uprooting all soldiers and settlers from the territory after a 38-year presence in a move he said was necessary to ensure Israel's security.
His backers called him a hero, remembering his daring exploits that helped turn the tide of the 1973 Yom Kippur War in Israel's favor and, after becoming prime minister, his harsh crackdown that helped end the Palestinian violence of Second Intifada.
After a memorial service at the Knesset on Monday morning, Sharon's closed coffin, draped in a blue and white Israeli flag, was placed in a military vehicle and driven in a police-escorted convoy toward Sharon's ranch in southern Israel.
Crowds stood along the roadside and on bridges, snapping pictures and getting a final glimpse of the coffin as the procession of vehicles left Jerusalem and snaked down the highway outside the city's picturesque hills.
The convoy made a brief stop at Latrun, the site of a bloody battle where Sharon was nearly killed during Israel's War of Independence in 1948, for a brief military ceremony before continuing south. His coffin was lowered into the ground in a military funeral at the Sharon family farm in southern Israel.
At the grave site, where Sharon was buried next to his wife Lily (who passed away in March 2000), Sharon's son Gilad remembered his father for overcoming the odds, whether it was battling Palestinian terrorism during the Second Intifada or clinging to life in his final days even after his kidneys had stopped functioning.
"Again and again you turned the impossible to reality. That's how legends are made. That's how an ethos of a nation is created," Gilad Sharon said.