Israel bid farewell Monday to its eleventh prime minister, Ariel Sharon, who died at the age of 85 on Saturday. The Times of Israel liveblogged the day’s events, from the morning’s Knesset ceremony to the funeral itself at Sharon’s Sycamore Farm in the afternoon.

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Final arrangements being made for Sharon’s funeral

Final preparations are being made this morning at Anemone Hill on the grounds of Ariel Sharon’s 1,000-acre Sycamore Farm for the burial of the 85-year-old former premier.

Six large screens have been erected at the site to project video from the funeral to thousands of expected attendees.

With the ceremony set to host nearly two dozen leaders from around the world, including US Vice President Joe Biden, security is tight. Some 800 police and at least two Iron Dome anti-rocket batteries have been deployed to the general area, which is in the northwestern Negev, close to the border with the Gaza Strip.

Roads around the funeral area, including some highways leading from Jerusalem to Sycamore Farm, are closed.

A full military funeral is slated to take place at 2 p.m., when Sharon’s casket will be carried by eight IDF major generals and buried alongside the grave of Sharon’s wife Lili.

Two rockets detected in Gaza ‘test’ fire

The IDF detected two rocket launches in the Gaza Strip this morning, which security officials said were apparently a test of the rocket systems. The rockets landed inside the Gaza Strip.

The test highlighted the defense establishment’s fear of Palestinian rocket attacks during former premier Ariel Sharon’s military funeral at his 1,000-acre Sycamore Farm in the western Negev this afternoon. The funeral will be attended by President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Vice President Joe Biden and a long list of Israeli and foreign leaders and dignitaries.

At least two Iron Dome batteries have been deployed around the site of the funeral to counter any rocket attack.

According to IDF Southern Command officials, Gaza factions routinely test rockets in the Strip.

Road closures expected ahead of Sharon funeral

Sharon’s funeral and commemoration ceremonies will mean the closure of several roads throughout the morning and afternoon as the casket travels from the Knesset to Latrun Junction, and on to the Sycamore Farm in the western Negev.

After a Knesset memorial ceremony at 9:30 a.m. in Jerusalem, Sharon’s casket will be taken at 11 a.m. to a ceremony at Latrun Junction, in the hills west of the capital, where Sharon fought and was almost killed in 1948 and where the casket will be saluted by the Israel Defense Forces General Staff in a brief ceremony.

The route of the casket will lead to road closures starting at 11 a.m., when police will seal off Route 1 leading out of the city to Latrun, Route 3 from Latrun to Soreq junctions, Route 6 to the intersection with Route 40, Route 40 to Bet Kamah Junction in the central Negev, Route 293 from Bet Kamah westward, and all routes around the Sycamore Farm area, including Route 334 between the Ibim and Sdeh Tzvi junctions.

Earlier Monday, Route 1 into Jerusalem was closed from 6:30 to 8 a.m. in order to allow the unimpeded arrival of US Vice President Joe Biden’s convoy from Ben Gurion International Airport to his Jerusalem hotel.

Biden slated to meet Netanyahu for dinner

Vice President Biden, in Israel to attend the Sharon funeral, will meet with Israeli leaders during the visit. He is slated to meet with President Peres in the afternoon, and will have dinner at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem’s Balfour Street with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Vice President Joe Biden lands at Ben Gurion International Airport in the early morning hours of Monday to attend the funeral of former premier Ariel Sharon. (photo credit: US Embassy Tel Aviv/Twitter)

Vice President Joe Biden lands at Ben Gurion International Airport in the early morning hours of Monday to attend the funeral of former premier Ariel Sharon. (photo credit: US Embassy Tel Aviv/Twitter)

Biden and Netanyahu are expected to discuss the ongoing peace talks with the Palestinians, together with the Western powers’ nuclear deal with Iran. Biden is accompanied in Israel by Jake Sullivan, his national security adviser, and Maher Bitar, director for Israeli-Palestinian affairs for the National Security Council.

After touching down at Ben Gurion International Airport at 5:56 a.m., Biden was met on the tarmac by US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, Shapiro’s wife Julie Fisher, the Foreign Ministry’s Deputy Director General for North America Ambassador Liora Herzl, and an Israeli government protocol officer, Emmanuelle Amar.

Biden arrived at Jerusalem’s David Citadel Hotel at 7:05 a.m.

Sharon’s funeral song: ‘Mother Earth’

Ariel Sharon’s family requested that singer Miki Gavrielov sing his contemplative ballad “Mother Earth” at the former premier’s funeral this afternoon.

The song describes the warm embrace of earth, and will be sung before Sharon’s body is placed in the ground.

The song includes lines such as, “She will take me to her when I call her name, Mother Earth… / She will embrace me to her in a warm breath, Mother Earth.”

At the Knesset ceremony this morning, singer Sarit Hadad will perform Naomi Shemer’s ballad “We are both from the same village.”

Knesset memorial ceremony set to begin

Sharon’s family has arrived at the Knesset plaza in Jerusalem for the start of the official commemoration ceremony at 9:30 a.m.

The ceremony is being attended by the entire government, most MKs and the senior leadership of the IDF and other security services. Sharon’s sons Omri and Gilad arrived at the plaza at around 9:20.

The Knesset ceremony is also being attended by a long list of foreign dignitaries, including US Vice President Biden, Quartet Envoy and former British PM Tony Blair, Czech Prime Minister Jiri Rusnok, Russian parliamentary head Sergey Naryshkin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Spanish Home Affairs Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz and Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.

Peres, Netanyahu, Biden and Blair to speak at Knesset memorial

The speaking program for the Knesset ceremony will include comments, in the following order, from IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz, President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, US Vice President Biden, and former UK prime minister Blair. It will close with two eulogies from family members.

Some 1,000 are in attendance, including Knesset members, cabinet ministers, the top leadership of the IDF and other security services, and 21 delegations from overseas.

German FM rearranges schedule for funeral

Sharon’s funeral forced German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to make significant changes to his schedule.

During his first visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, which was planned weeks in advance, he was scheduled to meet with Peres, Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and opposition leader Isaac Herzog, in addition to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

But since Steinmeier, who arrived in Israel last night, will represent Berlin at the state memorial ceremony, which just commenced at the Knesset, and at the funeral at the Sycamore Farm this afternoon, almost all of his appointments were canceled; he will meet only Liberman and Abbas.

(Raphael Ahren)

Rabbi Rafi Peretz, Gaza evacuee, reads psalm in Sharon’s memory

IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz, who was forcibly evacuated from the settlement of Atzmona in Gaza during the August 2005 Disengagement led by Sharon, has delivered the psalm in Sharon’s memory at the Knesset commemoration ceremony.

Peretz began the ceremony by reading Psalm 16:

A michtam of David; O God, guard me for I have taken refuge in You.
You should say to the Lord, “You are my Master; my good is not incumbent upon You
For the holy ones who are in the earth, and the mighty ones in whom is all my delight.
May the sorrows of those who hasten after another [deity] increase; I will not pour their libations of blood, nor will I take their names upon my lips.
The Lord is my allotted portion and my cup; You guide my destiny.
Portions have fallen to me in pleasant places; even the inheritance pleases me.”
I will bless the Lord, Who counseled me; even at night my conscience instructs me.
I have placed the Lord before me constantly; because [He is] at my right hand, I will not falter.
Therefore, my heart rejoiced, and my soul was glad; even my flesh shall dwell in safety.
For You shall not forsake my soul to the grave; You shall not allow Your pious one to see the pit.
You shall let me know the way of life, the fullness of joys in Your presence. There is pleasantness in Your right hand forever.

The reading was followed by the IDF chief cantor’s rendition of “Merciful Father,” a traditional commemorative prayer for the dead.

Peres: ‘Your footprints are etched in every hill and vale’

President Shimon Peres eulogizes Sharon, who for many years was his bitter political foe while the two served in the Knesset and in cabinet positions with the Labor and Likud parties, respectively.

Peres begins: “Arik, friend, leader and commander. We take our leave of you today, Arik. You were the shoulder on which our nation’s security rested. The story of your life is interwoven with the history of the state. Your footprints are etched in every hill and vale. You reaped the harvest with a sickle and defended the sheaves with a sword. Your fingerprints are visible in every diplomatic achievement and military outpost.”

The president describes his first meeting with Sharon, whose reputation preceded him as “smart and brave, unconventional and impetuous, with leadership skills and resoluteness. A soldier who does not flee from the enemy, a citizen who does not fear vision.” Sharon, he says, “was born for great things.” He says Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, loved Sharon “at first sight.”

Peres: ‘We will miss you very much, Arik’

“Arik was a man of the land,” Peres continues, who defended Israel, sowed and reaped its bounty. “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.”

“Arik, you were one of a kind,” Peres says. “May you have true rest, you great leader… The ground whence you came will now embrace you with the large, warm arms of our nation’s history, and take you in as a man who contributed an unforgettable, historic chapter to her saga.”

Peres quotes a famous poem about the war dead by poet Natan Alterman: “As the nation arises / Torn at heart but still breathing / To receive its miracle, the only miracle….”

“We will miss you very much, Arik. May your memory be for a blessing.”

Netanyahu praises Sharon for shaping IDF doctrine

Prime Minister Netanyahu: “Arik Sharon had a central role” in the building of the Israeli army’s “heritage of valor.”

Sharon, he says, “laid the foundations of the battle doctrine of the IDF, the doctrine of reprisal and initiative in the war against terrorism.”

He details Sharon’s vital battlefield roles, highlighting the 1973 war when Sharon’s skill and bravery, in recognizing the opportunity and seizing it to cross the Suez Canal and encircle the Egyptians, turned the tide of the war that had begun so disastrously for Israel.

Discussing Sharon the prime minister, Netanyahu recalls Sharon’s speech in 2001 warning the US not to sell out Israel to the Arab world in the same way as the international community sold out Czechoslovakia to the Nazis in 1938, and uses it to underline what he says is his and Sharon’s shared insistence on Israel’s right and obligation to defend itself.

The prime minister admits that he “didn’t always agree” with Sharon, his sometimes bitter rival in Likud, and Arik “didn’t always agree with me.” But when they served in each other’s governments, he says, “we worked together for Israel’s security and economy.”

Typically, Netanyahu inserts a reference to Iran, and reiterates his oft-stated declaration that Israel will not allow the Iranians to go nuclear.

“Arik was a practical man, pragmatic,” he says, and “his pragmatism was sourced in deep feeling for” Israel.

The prime minister calls Sharon one of the great shapers of Israel, whose memory will be inscribed in the annals of his people forever.

Eulogies mostly skirt controversy

In their eulogies, Netanyahu and Peres made no mention of the two most controversial events linked to Sharon — the Lebanon War including the Sabra and Shatila massacre, and the disengagement from the Gaza Strip.

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein does mention the disengagement in his eulogy, noting the controversy that the move generated and saying that although “It’s no secret our paths parted… I will never let that rift erase his contribution.”

He says Sharon was “always a warrior, always original, with nerves of steel.”

Sarit Haddad sings ‘We are both from the same village’

Singer Sarit Haddad sings “We are both from the same village” at the Knesset memorial ceremony for Sharon.

The song remembers the war dead through the story of a soldier remembering his lost friend.

The song’s lines include: “We are both from the same village…. / I remember the battle that never ended / Suddenly, I saw how you broke / And when the dawn rose over the hill / I brought you back to the village / You see us here in the village / Almost everything remained the same / In a green field I pass / and you’re on the other side of the fence.”

Biden: ‘Sharon left us too soon’

Vice President Joe Biden eulogizes Sharon as “a complex man who lived in complex times in a complex neighborhood.” Sharon was a part of “one of the most remarkable founding generations” in the world’s history, and had “the land of Israel, the Negev, etched on his soul.”

In a country as small as Israel, Sharon’s death “doesn’t just feel like the loss of a leader, it feels like a death in the family. Many of my fellow Americans, some of whom are here, feel that same sense of loss.”

Though we will “never know what the ultimate arc of Arik Sharon’s life would have been had he been physically able to pursue his goal,” Biden says, “as prime minister he surprised many.” Biden praises the former premier for the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza.

“He left us too soon,” laments Biden, “but the work of trying to reach peace continues.”

US Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Knesset memorial ceremony for former prime minister Ariel Sharon. (photo credit: screenshot)

US Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Knesset memorial ceremony for former prime minister Ariel Sharon. (photo credit: screenshot)

Biden goes out of his way to praise “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” Israel. “I can’t think of a more difficult and controversial decision that’s been made.”

Biden praises Sharon’s commitment to Israel’s security. “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,” Biden says.

In their many meetings over the years, he adds, “you immediately understood how he acquired … the nickname ‘bulldozer.’ He was indomitable.”

Biden acknowledges disagreements between Sharon and the US when it came to the Palestinian issue, but says the US will always support Israel’s security.

“Since he passed away and in the days ahead there will be much written about the prime minister. And it’s right for the Israeli people to reflect on all aspects of his life … taking the full measure of the man, the arc of his life, or as I would argue, the arc of his life traced the journey of Israel. And through it all the United States, whether we agreed or disagreed with a specific policy, has been unflagging in support of the state of Israel. We have never failed to make Israel’s case around the world. We have never failed to defend Israel’s legitimacy. That will never change.”

He ends with a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

“He was a man, take him for all in all / I shall not look upon his like again.”

“May the bond between Israel and the United States never be broken,” Biden concludes.

Blair: ‘Sharon never changed, always sought to protect Israel’

Former UK premier and current Quartet peace envoy Tony Blair eulogizes Sharon.

Blair rejects “the idea that he changed from man of war to a man of peace. He never changed. His strategic objective never wavered. The state… had to be protected for future generations. When that meant fighting, he fought. When that meant making peace, he sought peace with the same iron determination.”

Quartet envoy Tony Blair eulogizes former prime minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem, Monday, January 13, 2014 (screen capture: Channel 2)

Quartet envoy Tony Blair eulogizes former prime minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem, Monday, January 13, 2014 (screen capture: Channel 2)

Sharon “didn’t think of peace as a dreamer, but did dream of peace,” says Blair, who, like Biden, praises Sharon’s “true love for the land of Israel — not only a country and a people but an idea.”

Blair recalls how Sharon was uncomfortable in formal meetings. So he invited him to his home, “where I saw a different Arik: warm, funny and compassionate.”

Also like Biden, Blair praises Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza, “a move nobody thought he would make.”

Unit 101 comrade eulogizes lost ‘commander, teacher’

Marit Danon, Sharon’s secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office, pays tribute to a man who, she says, she “never managed” to call Arik, no matter how often he asked her to. Danon, who worked for prime ministers Shamir, Rabin, Peres and Barak before him, notes that she had not anticipated working for Sharon — Gilad Sharon once wrote that she handed in her resignation when he was elected in 2001, disliking him by reputation — but says she was entirely won over by the sheer force of his personality.

Shimon “Kacha” Kahaner, who fought alongside Sharon in Unit 101 in the 1950s, eulogizes Sharon, “my commander, teacher and rabbi.”

“Arik’s strength came from his love of the land, and from what the land gave him. It was a two-way relationship,” he says.

“Arik took us, a group of youths, aged 19 more or less, and succeeded in giving us the feeling that the entire security of Israel and the people of Israel rested on our shoulders. He succeeded, without speeches of fire or brimstone, but quietly, he affected us. He taught us how, with determination and faith and courage, it is possible to achieve anything.”

Shimon Kahaner, once a comrade of Ariel Sharon in the IDF, eulogizes the former prime minister in Jerusalem, Monday, January 13, 2014 (screen capture: Channel 2)

Shimon Kahaner, once a comrade of Ariel Sharon in the IDF, eulogizes the former prime minister in Jerusalem, Monday, January 13, 2014 (screen capture: Channel 2)

Kahaner calls Sharon “a man with vision. When he was a major, he was already a general. He was a giant. With leadership, professionalism, wisdom.”

Kahaner recalls how Sharon “rescued me when I was wounded in battle in 1955. He wouldn’t leave without removing me from the battlefield. I owe him my life. It is a great privilege to have been under his command.”

Settler leader and friend: ‘Your last years were painful’

Settler leader and close friend of Sharon Ze’ev “Zambish” Hever eulogizes him as a great builder and fighter — who in his last years did things that were “painful and difficult.”

“You taught the children of Israel how to fight,” Hever says. “Everything you built you built big and deep, a project not for 20 years but for all time…. You believed utterly in the Jewish people and its abilities. You said again and again, ‘This people will overcome every obstacle.’”

Ze'ev "Zambish" Hever, an old friend and settler leader, eulogizes former premier Ariel Sharon at the Knesset in Jerusalem. (photo credit: screen shot/Channel 2)

Ze’ev ‘Zambish’ Hever, an old friend and settler leader, eulogizes former premier Ariel Sharon at the Knesset in Jerusalem. (photo credit: screen shot/Channel 2)

Hever insists “I loved you very much; you were a hero of Israel. But because of this love, your about-face in the last two years of your premiership was painful and difficult.”

Hever promises not to cease in building and settling the land. “The questions go unanswered. But as you commanded, we will not give up. We will not give up.”

Memorial service at Knesset ends, casket heads to Latrun

The memorial service at the Knesset ends with a reading by the IDF’s chief cantor of an ancient Talmudic prayer: “Know whence you came, and to where you are going, and before Whom you will give your accounting.”

The casket was carried out of the Knesset plaza by eight pallbearers, followed by family members and a military honor guard.

The casket of former premier Ariel Sharon is carried out of the Knesset plaza on Monday morning, January 13, 2014, after a memorial ceremony. (photo credit: screen shot/Channel 2)

The casket of former premier Ariel Sharon is carried out of the Knesset plaza on Monday morning, January 13, 2014, after a memorial ceremony. (photo credit: screen shot/Channel 2)

It is now headed to a military memorial at Latrun, where Sharon first fought as a member of the IDF, and where he was wounded and nearly killed in 1948.

Route 1 out of Jerusalem is now closed up to Latrun Junction.

Orange security bracelets an ironic touch

Sharon’s closest relatives, colleagues and friends are given orange bracelets by the Shin Bet’s security staff to better identify them during the closely guarded ceremony.

The color, participants said, was an ironic touch. Orange was the color adopted by the opposition to Sharon’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, and has a special place in Israeli political iconography as the color of the settler right.

“Whoever gave us these bracelets showed determination, but no sensitivity,” one bracelet recipient tells Maariv.

The comment is a riff off the IDF’s orders at the time of the withdrawal to pull settlers from their homes “with sensitivity, but with determination.”

Israel warns Gazans against rocket fire during funeral

An Israeli security source tells Reuters that Israel had “passed the message” on Sunday to Gaza’s Hamas rulers to make sure no rockets are fired at Israel during Sharon’s funeral, which is slated to begin at 2 p.m. at Sharon’s 1,000-acre Sycamore Farm only a few kilometers from the Gaza border.

“It was made clear to them that tomorrow would be a very bad day for anyone there to test Israel’s patience,” Reuters quotes the anonymous source.

Israeli soldiers walk by an Iron Dome missile defense system deployed near Jerusalem, Sunday (photo credit Flash90)

Israeli soldiers walk by an Iron Dome missile defense system deployed near Jerusalem, Sunday (photo credit Flash90)

There was no immediate response from Hamas, other Palestinian factions or Egyptian officials, who also share a border with Gaza and have served as mediators between Israel and Hamas in the past.

Two rockets were fired in the Gaza Strip on Monday morning, but the IDF said they were “test” fires, and landed inside the Gaza Strip.

The IDF has deployed Iron Dome batteries around Sycamore Farm.

Sharon, the major general who never went to officers school

As Sharon’s casket makes its way from the state memorial at the Knesset to the military ceremony at Latrun, our military correspondent Mitch Ginsburg recalls Sharon’s unusual path to command.

Sharon never went to an officers school. He served in a Haganah platoon early in the War of Independence, and when, during one nighttime raid on a village near his home of Kfar Malal, on a very rainy night, no one gave the order to charge, Sharon, 20, stepped forward and assumed command.

Sharon accompanying Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, on a tour of the southern front (Photo credit: GPO/ Flash 90)

Sharon accompanying Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, on a tour of the southern front (Photo credit: GPO/ Flash 90)

It is worth noting that the man who would become known as Israel’s greatest battlefield commander barely passed his squad leader training in Kibbutz Ruchama, near the location of his future Sycamore Farm, where he will be buried Monday afternoon. At the time, he was made a squad leader on a probationary basis, before slowly advancing up the ranks to major general.

Casket makes its way slowly to Latrun for military salute

Sharon’s casket is slowly making its way to the Armored Corps Memorial and Museum at Latrun Junction, in the hills west of Jerusalem, where the IDF General Staff will hold a brief ceremony in Sharon’s memory.

The ceremony, attended by the entire IDF high command, will have no speeches and no foreign dignitaries, but a brief military salute to one of the architects of the IDF’s battle doctrine and the man Israel’s first premier David Ben Gurion called Israel’s “best field commander.”

A long police and IDF convoy is accompanying the former premier does Road 1 from Jerusalem, which is currently closed to traffic.

Sharon fought and was almost killed by Jordanian forces in the 1948 battle for Latrun. As our military correspondent Mitch Ginsburg has written, that battle was a defining moment for the young Sharon.

A live feed is available here:

Several highways, byroads closed for funeral procession

Several Israeli highways and smaller roads have been closed by police to accommodate the travel route of Ariel Sharon’s casket.

Route 1 leading out of Jerusalem to Latrun is closed, as is Route 3 from Latrun south to Soreq Junction.

Route 6 from Soreq to its intersection with Route 40 is expected to be closed soon. Route 40 to Bet Kamah Junction in the central Negev, Route 293 from Bet Kamah westward, Route 334 between the Ibim and Sdeh Tzvi junctions and all other routes leading to and around the Sycamore Farm area are sealed to traffic.

Meanwhile, back at the farm…

After the Knesset memorial ceremony, which ended at 11 a.m., US Vice President Joe Biden held a quick meet-and-greet at the Knesset with Israeli leaders in the office of Speaker Yuli Edelstein. Attending the gathering: President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Edelstein, members of Congress Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Eliot Engel, and Dan Shapiro and Dan Kurtzer, the current and former ambassadors to Israel, respectively.

At 12:14 p.m., according to the White House press pool, Biden’s motorcade left the Knesset, headed to Sharon’s 1,000-acre Sycamore Farm in the western Negev, the site of the funeral from 2 p.m.

Sharon receives standing salute from IDF’s major generals

At a brief, special gathering at the Latrun Armored Corps Museum and Memorial, some 15 serving IDF major generals salute the casket of Sharon, the former major general, defense minister and premier.

The casket has now been returned to the transport vehicle and will be continuing its ride south to Sharon’s ranch in a few minutes, where the former prime minister is to be buried in a more intimate funeral ceremony starting at 2 p.m.

IDF major generals salute the casket of former premier Ariel Sharon, January 13, 2014. (photo credit: screen shot/Channel 2)

IDF major generals salute the casket of former premier Ariel Sharon, January 13, 2014. (photo credit: screen shot/Channel 2)

Many of the senior officers are accompanying Sharon to the funeral. Eight IDF major generals will carry Sharon’s casket to bury it.

Sharon fought and was almost killed by Jordanian forces in the 1948 battle for Latrun. As our military correspondent Mitch Ginsburg has written, that battle was a defining moment for the young military commander.

21 foreign delegations to lay wreaths at funeral

The list of wreath-layers at Sharon’s funeral, according to the Israeli government, in the order they will lay the wreaths:

  • Mr. Joseph Biden, The Vice President of the United States of America
  • Mr. Tony Blair, Special Envoy to the Middle East (and Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom), accompanied by Mr. Hugh Robertson, Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom
  • Mr. Jiří Rusnok, The Prime Minister of the Czech Republic
  • Ms. Julie Bishop, The Foreign Minister of Australia
  • Mr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, The Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany
  • Mr. Liviu Dragnea, The Vice Prime Minister of Romania
  • Mr. Gerald Klug, The Minister for National Defense and Sport of the Republic of Austria
  • Mr. Fotis Fotiou, The Defense Minister of the Republic of Cyprus
  • Mr. Dimitris Avrampolous, Greek Minister of Defense
  • Mr. Tomasz Siemoniak, The Minister of National Defense of the Republic of Poland
  • Mr. Chris Alexander, The Citizenship and Immigration Minister of Canada
  • Mr. Wim Kok, Former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, also representing the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg
  • Mr. Armand De Decker, The Second Vice President of the Senate of the Kingdom of Belgium
  • Mr. Masagos Zulkifli, The Second Foreign Minister of the Republic of Singapore
  • Mr. Angel Velitchkov, The Deputy Foreign Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria
  • Ms. Hélène Conway-Mouret, Minister Delegate for French Nationals Abroad of the Foreign Ministry of the French Republic
  • Ms. Marta Dassù, The Deputy Foreign Minister of Italy
  • Dr. János Fónagy, Parliamentary State Secretary for National Development of Hungary
  • Mr. Samuel Schmid, Former President of Switzerland
  • Mr. Wang Changyi, Former Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Israel and previously Assistant to the Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China
  • Ambassador Wegger Strommen, Political Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Norway
  • At Sharon funeral, Esther Pollard calls for husband’s release

    Esther Pollard, wife of jailed spy-for-Israel Jonathan Pollard, arriving at Sharon’s Negev ranch ahead of his funeral, calls for her husband’s release from an American prison.

    “It was so important to Yonatan [Jonathan] that I come,” she tells Channel 2 News in Hebrew.

    “Yonatan was so hopeful that he would be released before Sharon passed. He would always ask me, in the few minutes he had to call me, how Sharon was doing,” she adds.

    “He told me that Sharon was the only cabinet minister who demanded not to return the documents with his fingerprints to the United States as long as he was still in America. [Sharon] always placed the agent above the politics.”

    She concludes with a call to the Obama administration: “It’s not too late for President [Obama] to do the merciful thing, in Arik’s merit and memory.”

    ‘Sharon never wanted to be buried on Mount Herzl’

    Ariel Sharon never wanted to be buried on Mount Herzl, his former adviser Asi Shariv tells reporters gathered at Sharon’s ranch ahead of his funeral.

    “He never liked the ceremonies on Mount Herzl. He always said to us, you won’t have to go to Mount Herzl for me. I’ll be buried here,” he says, looking around him.

    Police and press seen during preparations for the funeral of former prime minister Ariel Sraron outside Sharon's Sycamore Ranch in the Negev, Monday, January 13, 2014 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

    Police and press seen during preparations for the funeral of former prime minister Ariel Sraron outside Sharon’s Sycamore Ranch in the Negev, Monday, January 13, 2014 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

    “This is the place he wanted to be,” buried at his ranch alongside his wife Lily.

    Shariv adds that he is “not surprised” at the outpouring of public affection for the former premier. “In January 2006,” when he sustained a stroke that left him comatose until his death on Saturday, “he was the most popular Israeli prime minister ever.”

    Biden arrives at Sharon’s ranch amid security worries

    Joe Biden’s convoy is now arriving at Ariel Sharon’s western Negev ranch, some eight kilometers (five miles) from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

    The event has meant an unusual level of security precautions, especially against rocket fire from Gaza, including the deployment of at least two Iron Dome batteries devoted to intercepting rocket fire aimed at the event.

    Biden is, in effect, being protected by one of the Israeli missile-defense technologies developed in no small part in cooperation with the United States.

    The security envelope around the event, where Israel’s top leadership and many senior foreign dignitaries are in attendance, is being managed by the Shin Bet security service, which is on “emergency” footing with its entire manpower deployed to protect the day-long, rolling commemoration event.

    “We are preparing for every conceivable scenario,” Israel’s Southern District Police chief Yoram Halevy said yesterday, “from minor provocations” by Israeli extremists “to gunfire from the Gaza Strip.”

    Police on horseback, IDF battalions, including reservists, balloon and other surveillance drones, Iron Dome batteries and air force fighter jets on patrol above — these are among the more visible security precautions on the ground.

    Despite years in coma, ‘Israel has not forgotten Sharon’

    Ariel Sharon’s former aide, attorney Dov Weisglass, offers a philosophical perspective on Sharon’s funeral.

    “We felt the great shock and sadness in 2006,” he tells Channel 2. “Since then, eight years have passed that got us used to the idea that he’s not with us.”

    Today, he says, “we’re overwhelmed by the great honor, interest, admiration, from Israel and around the world, for a man who was not only an Israeli figure, but a global one. There’s nothing more cruel, or shorter, than the public’s memory,” Weisglass said with uncharacteristic bluntness. “Things change daily, and the man left public life eight years ago.”

    For those who were close to him, he adds, “it touches our hearts to see how much his legacy and story are still so powerful.”

    Sharon’s casket, Netanyahu, Peres arrive at Sycamore Farm

    Sharon’s casket is arriving now at his Negev ranch, Sycamore Farm. Netanyahu and Peres arrived just minutes earlier, and Joe Biden a little before that.

    The funeral area on Anemone Hill, where Sharon’s wife Lily is buried, is divided into three parts: invited VIP guests, including family, foreign dignitaries and all Israel’s top leaders, a second section for well-wishers and more distant relations, and a third for media and the public.

    Ariel Sharon's casket arrives at Sycamore Farm in the western Negev for the funeral of the former premier. (photo credit: screen shot/Channel 2)

    Ariel Sharon’s casket arrives at Sycamore Farm in the western Negev for the funeral of the former premier. (photo credit: screen shot/Channel 2)

    The funeral is open to the public. Some 600 members of the public have come to pay their respects, police say.

    While the funeral is intended to be a more intimate setting than the official ceremony earlier today at the Knesset, the crowd appears to be larger, including hundreds of former friends and colleagues of the former premier.

    ‘People from everywhere’

    From reporter Mitch Ginsburg at Sycamore Farm:

    There are people from everywhere at Sharon’s funeral: Druze and Bedouin from the north, who brought calves and sheep from their farms; soldiers who served under [Sharon]; an ex-con who told me he made known in prison that if anyone said anything bad about Arik, they would get a beating; and one woman, Shoshana Springer from Rishon Lezion, who told me she got married two weeks before the Yom Kippur War and forever felt that Arik Sharon was personally responsible for bringing her husband back from the war.

    Sharon buried by IDF senior officers

    Eight IDF major generals, including Deputy Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot, Navy chief Ram Rutberg, Air Force commander Amir Eshel, and the heads of the northern and southern commands, serve as pallbearers carrying Sharon’s casket out of its transport car and on to the burial site, where it is lowered into the grave. The former prime minister’s family, closest friends, and top leaders including Peres and Netanyahu, and foreign dignitaries including Joe Biden and some two-dozen others, stand close by.

    IDF major generals shoulder the casket of former prime minister Ariel Sharon in the Sycamore Ranch, Sunday, January 13, 2014 (screen capture: Channel 2)

    IDF major generals shoulder the casket of former prime minister Ariel Sharon in the Sycamore Ranch, Sunday, January 13, 2014 (screen capture: Channel 2)

    An IDF rabbi cuts small incisions in the shirts of Sharon’s sons, Gilad and Omri, a ceremonial act signaling grief and the start of the seven days of Jewish mourning, or shiva.

    The IDF’s top generals then empty prepared sacks of dirt onto the open grave as the IDF’s chief cantor recites traditional burial prayers.

    IDF major generals lay former premier Ariel Sharon in his grave in a military burial at Sharon's western Negev Sycamore Farm, January 13, 2014. (photo credit: screen shot/Channel 2)

    IDF major generals lay former premier Ariel Sharon in his grave in a military burial at Sharon’s western Negev Sycamore Farm, January 13, 2014. (photo credit: screen shot/Channel 2)

    Kaddish read for former PM, now buried

    With Sharon now buried, the funeral is nearing its conclusion with the recitation of Kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayer for the dead.

    All in attendance are standing at attention. The funeral was brief, no more than 15 minutes from the arrival of the casket to the burial.

    A final prayer is being read by the IDF’s chief rabbi Brig. Gen. Rafi Peretz, a man who has delivered prayers for Sharon during this day of commemoration despite being a Gaza Strip evacuee pulled from his home in the Gaza settlement of Atzmona in August 2005.

    After Peretz, Sharon’s two sons Omri and Gilad read the Kaddish once again.

    Former subordinate of Sharon recalls his calm command

    Zvi Aviram, of Ashkelon, first served under Sharon in the mid-’60s, when Sharon was the commander of the 11th Brigade, and stuck, in terms of promotion, in what he called the deep freeze.

    “What he did to that old brigade in a matter of months was unbelievable,” he tells The Times of Israel at Sharon’s funeral. “As though he injected a hot pepper into us.”

    Sharon, who both lived and fought in the desert often, was at home in forbidding climates (Photo credit: GPO/ Flash 90)

    Sharon, who both lived and fought in the desert often, was at home in forbidding climates (Photo credit: GPO/ Flash 90)

    Aviram served under Sharon again, as deputy battalion commander of the 87th Recon Battalion, during the Yom Kippur War. “His voice over the radio, always calm, understood what you were saying immediately,” Aviram says.

    “He was the greatest military leader we ever had.”

    Aviram lost two battalion commanders during the war, he says, and was therefore in touch with Sharon often.

    Mitch Ginsburg

    IDF Chief of Staff Gantz: I salute you

    “I came to salute you today, as the chief of staff of the IDF, as a warrior, commander of paratroopers who went after you even after the ranks no longer adorned your shoulders,” Gantz says at Sharon’s funeral.

    He praises Sharon’s leadership qualities. “The army will continue to live in your shadow and in your image for many years.”

    Sharon was a study in contrasts, Gantz seems to be saying: “A grizzled warrior with a subscription to the philharmonic, the daring commander, the considered planner. You knew how to choose the best of the warriors, the bravest among those charging ahead, the future generation. There isn’t a battle doctrine in which we can’t see your fingerprints as a commander.”

    Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz eulogizes former premier Ariel Sharon at his funeral on Monday, January 13, 2014. (photo credit: screen shot/Channel 2)

    Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz eulogizes former premier Ariel Sharon at his funeral on Monday, January 13, 2014. (photo credit: screen shot/Channel 2)

    Sharon “created generations of soldiers and commanders who know whence they come and what they are fighting for. We continue to march to the sound of your footsteps,” Gantz says.

    He concludes in grand, touching manner. “Army identity number 38166, Maj. Gen. Ariel Sharon, warrior, commander and general, in the name of generations of warriors past, present and future, I salute you. May your memory be for a blessing.”

    Gantz salutes and walks away from the microphone.

    Sharon’s sons eulogize him: ‘You returned home’

    Gilad and Omri Sharon are eulogizing their father after his burial.

    “I had the privilege to be among those who worked for you and with you,” says Omri, who served with his father as a Knesset member, “watching how you learned a new subject, weighed and took decisions, planned.”

    He then reads a poem in Sharon’s honor.

    Gilad delivers a visibly aching eulogy, first expounding on his father, “the national myth.”

    Gilad and Omri Sharon eulogize their father at his funeral, Monday, January 13, 2014. (photo credit: screen shot/Channel 2)

    Gilad and Omri Sharon eulogize their father at his funeral, Monday, January 13, 2014. (photo credit: screen shot/Channel 2)

    “They said you can’t overcome the terror of the 1950s. They said tanks can’t do flanking maneuvers in the dunes north of Um Katef in 1967. They said you can’t cross the Suez Canal in the Yom Kippur War, until you did and ended the war. They said there is no alternative to new immigrants living in tents [during the mass immigration wave in the 1990s from the former Soviet Union]. They said terror can’t be defeated in the early 2000s. So they said. But you proved otherwise. Doing the impossible is how legends are born, national myths,” he says.

    Gilad offers a few defiant words to Sharon’s critics.

    “There are more than 100 flourishing towns and villages, in the Golan, Negev, Judea and Samaria. Those who criticize you for removing the settlements of Gaza must know you founded more than 100 settlements, more than anyone else.”

    He turns to the crowd: “Look around. The scenery is painfully beautiful. We walked in these scenes for years, sometimes speaking, sometimes silent and thoughtful. You don’t really live in a place until you bury your dead there,” he says, and pauses, choking back tears.

    “Saturday afternoon, in the hospital at Tel Hashomer, with [musicians] Arik Einstein and Arik Lavi playing in the background, I sit at your side, holding your hand, caressing your face, my dying father. Then you returned home,” Gilad concludes, and sits.

    The sons’ eulogies are followed by the “El Maleh Rachamim” prayer for the dead, and the singing of “Ima Adama,” “Mother Earth,” by singer Miki Gavrielov.

    Wreaths are laid at Sharon’s grave

    Wreaths are now being laid at the grave, starting with the Israeli leadership, beginning with President Shimon Peres, and continuing with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, dignitaries, and the heads of the security services.

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lays a wreath at the grave of former premier Ariel Sharon, Monday, January 13, 2014. (photo credit: screen shot/Channel 2)

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lays a wreath at the grave of former premier Ariel Sharon, Monday, January 13, 2014. (photo credit: screen shot/Channel 2)

    A wreath is then laid by the head of the foreign diplomatic corps and Sharon’s grandkids.

    The grandchildren of Ariel Sharon lay a wreath at his grave, Monday, January 13, 2014. (photo credit: screen shot/Channel 2)

    The grandchildren of Ariel Sharon lay a wreath at his grave, Monday, January 13, 2014. (photo credit: screen shot/Channel 2)

    Now it is Joe Biden’s turn.

    US Vice President Joe Biden pauses after laying a wreath on the grave of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, Sunday, January 13, 2014 (screen capture: Channel 2)

    US Vice President Joe Biden pauses after laying a wreath on the grave of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, Sunday, January 13, 2014 (screen capture: Channel 2)

    There are 21 foreign delegations, including from the US, the Czech Republic, Germany, Romania, Austria, Poland, and Canada.

    With a rifle volley, Sharon’s funeral ends

    With a final gun salute, the last commemoration ceremony for Ariel Sharon comes to a close.

    The ceremonies — at the Knesset, at the Latrun Armored Corps Memorial and Museum, and the burial at Sharon’s Negev ranch — have passed off without incident.

    Spectators at the Sycamore Ranch watch a screen depicting IDF major generals bearing the coffin of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, Sunday, January 13, 2014 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

    Spectators at the Sycamore Ranch watch a screen depicting IDF major generals bearing the coffin of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, Sunday, January 13, 2014 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

    Sharon has been laid to rest in ceremonies attended by representatives from around the world, including US Vice President Biden, and the entire leadership of the State of Israel, including President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu and the cabinet, the justices of the Supreme Court, the heads of all Israel’s security services, friends, relatives, old comrades-at-arms, and small armies of reporters, with thousands of soldiers and police securing the daylong commemoration.

    Sharon is the second prime minister to have been laid to rest in the Negev. Israel’s first premier, David Ben Gurion, is buried at Kibbutz Sde Boker in the central Negev.

    Mourners are now dispersing from the Sycamore Ranch. Israeli TV is interviewing some as they leave — Dan Halutz, appointed by Sharon as chief of staff; Shas leader Aryeh Deri; Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz, a former chief of staff. Like many others before him in the past few hours, Mofaz talks about Sharon’s insistence as prime minister in knowing from his military chiefs exactly what was going on the ground — reminding them of the broader picture, trusting their judgment about tactics and details.

    The day’s ceremonies have largely highlighted the consensual aspects of Sharon’s extraordinary military and political careers, as is only to be expected on such occasions. Netanyahu, at the Knesset in the morning, acknowledged their disagreements, but eased quickly over them. Perhaps the most outspoken address came from an emotional Gilad Sharon, who both mourned his father and robustly defended his legacy — a passionate conclusion to a series of ceremonies mourning a remarkable Israeli leader.

    On which note, we thank you for following Ariel Sharon’s funeral ceremonies with us today at The Times of Israel.