Ariel Sharon, Israel’s 11th prime minister, was eulogized on Monday as a fighter and pragmatic politician whose life was intertwined with the land of Israel whose security he defended relentlessly.
“Like all historic leaders, all real leaders, he had a north star that guided him,” Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said at a 90-minute memorial on a plaza in front of Israel’s Parliament building. “His north star was the survival of the state of Israel and the Jewish people wherever they resided.”
Though Mr. Sharon’s “actions earned him controversy and even condemnation,” Mr. Biden said, “he seemed never in doubt.” Calling him “a complex man,” Mr. Biden noted that “he also lived in complex times in a very complex neighborhood.”
Mr. Sharon died Saturday at 85 after eight years in a state of minimal consciousness following a stroke that aborted his prime ministership when, some analysts said, he seemed on the brink of historic moves to end Israel’s intractable conflict with the Palestinians. But he was long criticized internationally for his aggressive military endeavors and building of Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.
Nicknamed in life both “the bulldozer” and “the butcher,” he was remembered Monday not only for his bravery and boldness, but for his sense of humor and sensitivity by fellow leaders and also by his former soldiers and secretary.
The modest service was attended by family and old friends, ministers and members of Parliament, its 750 seats not quite filled. A military cantor recited the memorial prayer, and Sarit Hadad, a popular Israeli singer sang a mournful ballad remembering the casualties of war, “We Are Both From the Same Village,” said to be a Sharon favorite.
Shimon Peres, the 90-year-old Israeli president who recalled meeting Mr. Sharon when the younger man was a history student with big ideas about the state’s defense in the early 1950s, called him “the shoulder on whom Israel’s security rested,” saying he “turned things that seemed impossible into levers of possibility.”
“Israel loved him and he loved Israel’s children and soil,” Mr. Peres said of a man who had been, at turns, both rival and ally. “Arik was a man of the land – the fragrance of it appealed to his senses, and its mounds he tilled, sowed and reaped. He defended and protected it as a lion,” he said, referring to Mr. Sharon by his nickname.
He added, “He never halted from his aspiration to envision the day Israel would be at peace.”