SYCAMORE RANCH, Israel -- After an official state funeral featuring international dignitaries and flowery eulogies, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was buried with military honors Monday at his family ranch in southern Israel.
In keeping with army protocol, the coffin of the controversial military and political leader was carried by eight Israeli generals, who lowered it into the ground beside the modest flowerbed and headstone marking the grave of his second wife on a small hill offering a panoramic view of the southern Negev area. A cantor sang as the casket descended.
The military funeral and natural countryside seemed to reflect some of the contradictions that Sharon embodied. He wanted to be buried at the ranch and by his wife’s side rather than in a plot in the national cemetery in Jerusalem reserved for the country’s leaders.
Following Jewish mourning tradition, a military rabbi cut a small tear into the shirt collars of his sons, Omri and Gilad, who recited a prayer for their father.
As young paratroopers stood by in an honor guard, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Israel’s chief of staff, saluted Sharon in a eulogy paying tribute to the iconic commander he called “a fusion between warrior and dreamer” who shaped the nation’s army.
Following the state memorial held earlier in Jerusalem, Sharon’s burial at his beloved ranch was more personal. He called the ranch Havat Shikmim in Hebrew, which translates as Sycamore Ranch.
Son Omri read a Hebrew translation of “Education of the Chieftain” by the late Chilean poet and Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda, which talks about the path toward gaining worthiness of leadership. "It might have been written for him personally," he said.
Omri's older brother, Gilad, spoke of a deeply painful part of the family's past -- the death of Sharon’s eldest son, Gur, in a gun accident at age 11 in 1967 -- and how Sharon soldiered on despite his grief.
Sharon's sense of responsibility to his family never stopped, Gilad said. "Time after time you have made the impossible happen," he said. "This is how you create the myth of the nation."
He ended his eulogy with the words: "Beloved father, you have returned home."
Words were followed by music and a long succession of Israeli officials, foreign leaders and diplomats placing wreaths on the fresh grave on behalf of governments worldwide. Vice President Joe Biden paused briefly in prayer after laying a wreath. Friends, army buddies and neighbors from surrounding communities added to the growing heap of flowers.
Sealing the ceremony was a three-volley salute, fired from M-16 rifles by the guard of young paratroopers in the trademark red berets of Sharon’s unit.
Shortly after, several rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel. No immediate damage was reported.
Various measures have been taken in recent days to enhance security around the ranch located not far from the border with Gaza, including the deployment of an extra Iron Dome rocket-interception battery in the area and reported back-channel messages to Hamas rulers in Gaza.
Staff writer Memoli reported from Sharon's ranch and special correspondent Sobelman from Jerusalem.