|Netanyahu pays tribute to Peres. Photos GIDEON KOBI/GPO|
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's eulogy at the funeral of the ninth president of Israel, Shimon Peres
You have come from near and far to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, to pay last respects to Shimon Peres, one of the founders of the state, one of the greatest leaders of our nation, a venerable leader, the remarkable Shimon Peres.
I want to thank you all for coming today.
That so many leaders came from around the world to bid farewell to Shimon, is a testament to his optimism, his quest for peace, his love of Israel.
The people of Israel deeply appreciate the honor you have shown Shimon and the state to which he dedicated his life.
Shimon lived a life of purpose. He soared to incredible heights. He swept so many with his vision and his hope. He was a great man of Israel. He was a great man of the world.
Israel grieves for him. The world grieves for him. But we find hope in his legacy, as does the world. My friends, Shimon Peres not only led a long life, but a meaningful life. He played an active role as a senior partner in the national rebirth of the Jewish people. He belonged to the generation that emerged from bondage to liberty, that struck roots in our ancient homeland, and wielded the Sword of David in its defense.
Shimon made a monumental contribution to guaranteeing our capacity to defend ourselves for generations. And for that he will have the gratitude of generations. At the same time, he made every effort throughout his adult life to achieve piece with our neighbors. It is no secret that Shimon and I were political rivals, but over time we became friends, close friends. In one of our many late night meetings at the President's House, late at night, I asked him, "Tell me, Shimon, throughout your long career, who were the Israeli leaders you most revered?" Before he managed to answer me, I said, "The first one is clear. You studied at the feet of Ben-Gurion." For indeed, as a young man, Shimon saw how Ben-Gurion forged our freedom and shouldered the responsibility for building Israel and securing its destiny. But in the same conversation, he also talked about Rabin, Begin, and other leaders with genuine appreciation for their unique contributions to our state.
He then surprised me somewhat when he also mentioned one other person – Moshe Dayan. Shimon talked about Dayan's valor on the battlefield and his originality, and one other characteristic. "Moshe never cared what anybody thought about him," Shimon told me. "Dayan completely ignored political considerations. He was what he wanted to be." Shimon appreciated these qualities, but he also knew one other truth – that if you want to realize the things you believe in, your diplomatic, economic and social goals, you can't really disconnect from politics. And therefore, in the 50 years that he served in Knesset and in government, Shimon lived in that inherent tension between statesmanship and politics. He soared on the wings of vision but he knew that the runway passes through the rocky field of politics. He was able to do all that—to be pummeled, to fall and get back on his feet time after time—thanks to his passion for activism and ideals.
|Netanyahu in Entebbe earlier.|
I first encountered that passion, here, on this very hill 40 years ago. Two days after the bold rescue operation in Entebbe in which my brother gave his life, Yoni's funeral was held here.
As defense minister, together with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon approved that operation. At the funeral, he delivered a deeply stirring eulogy, which I will never forget. It was the first time I ever met him. My late parents, my brother, and I were profoundly moved by what he said about Yoni, about the Operation, about the bond with our forefathers, and about the pride of our nation. From that point on, a special bond was formed between us. Shimon and I disagreed about many things, but those disagreements never overshadowed our many warm and thoughtful discussions.
Our friendship deepened with each meeting. Yet we never glossed over our differences of opinion. In one of our nearly night-long discussions, we addressed a fundamental question: From Israel's perspective, what is paramount—security or peace? Shimon enthusiastically replied, "Bibi, peace is the true security. If there will be peace, there will be security." And I responded to him, "Shimon, in the Middle East, security is essential for achieving peace and for maintaining it." The debate intensified. We went back and forth for hours, flinging arguments at one another. He came from the left, I came from the right. I came from the right, and he came back from the left. And in the end – like two worn-out prizefighters – we put down our gloves.
I saw in his eyes, and I think he saw in mine, that our principles stemmed from deep-seeded beliefs and a commitment to the cause – ensuring Israel's future. My friends, do you know what surprising conclusion I reached with the passage of time? We were both right. In a turbulent Middle East in which only the strong survive, peace will not be achieved other than by permanently preserving our power. But power is not an end in itself. It's a means to an end. That goal is to ensure our national existence and co-existence. To promote progress, prosperity and peace – for us, for the nations of the region, and for our Palestinian neighbors. Distinguished guests, Shimon also reached the conclusion that no one camp has a monopoly on truth. The day after his swearing in as Israel's 9th president, he attended the official memorial ceremony for Ze'ev Jabotinsky, whom I regard as one of my spiritual mentors. Addressing the ceremony, Shimon said, "History bestowed on the two major streams of Zionism – the Labor movement and the Jabotinsky movement – the task of building the Zionist enterprise. The many gaps between these two camps have narrowed on many issues. The adherents of these streams are today partners in political parties and in the leadership of the state – something that was inconceivable in the distant past." "It seems," Shimon concluded, "that King Solomon was right. Two are better than one." At the end of his speech, I approached him, shook his hand and warmly thanked him for his unifying message.
Nine years later, two months ago, my wife and I came to honor Shimon at the opening of the "Peres Center for Innovation." Nano and medical technology, neuroscience and computer engineering, satellites and robotics—all were on prominent display. Shimon radiated pride. I don't think I had ever seen him that happy. It was the realization of one of his dreams. He put a pair of 3-D glasses over his eyes – the same eyes from which his corneas have been donated for the benefit of the next generation. Nothing could be more symbolic.
Shimon always looked to the future. He believed, as we believe, in progress, in science and technology. They have the power to strengthen our security as well as to lay the future foundations for peace. If we nurture these capabilities and act resolutely against the enemies of progress, modernity will triumph over barbarism, good will win out over evil, and light will defeat darkness. Shimon, my friend, you said that one of the few times you shed a tear was when you heard the tragic news of the death of my brother Yoni in Entebbe. You cried then, Shimon. And today, I weep for you. I loved you. We all love you. Be at peace, Shimon, dear friend, great leader. We will cherish your memory in the heart of our nation and – I can confidently say – in the heart of all nations."