Israelis pay respects to Peres as he lies in state at Knesset
search

Israelis pay respects to Peres as he lies in state at Knesset

Thousands expected to pass before the casket of the former president in Jerusalem, ahead of the official funeral on Friday

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Shimon Peres’s casket was brought Thursday to the Knesset in Jerusalem, where thousands of Israelis are expected to pay their respects to the former president and prime minister, who died in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Members of the public will be able to file past the casket to pay tribute to the last of the country’s founding fathers as he lies in state from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m Thursday outside of the Israeli parliament.

Peres died early Wednesday at the age of 93, some two weeks after suffering a massive stroke.

A solemn ceremony saw President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, parliament speaker Yuli Edelstein and opposition leader Isaac Herzog lay wreaths beside Peres’s flag-draped coffin at a plaza outside parliament.

The ceremony was held in silence, with none of the leaders speaking.

Afterwards, several hundred mourners began making their way into the grounds of parliament to view the coffin after passing through security checks. Many took photographs as they approached. A cordon kept them around five meters from the coffin.

Route 1, the main thoroughfare between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, was briefly closed early in the morning as Peres’s casket was brought to the capital.

Route 1 will be closed intermittently throughout Thursday and Friday as some 80 presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, heads of parliament, ambassadors and other representatives make their way from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv to the capital for Peres’s funeral.

Peres’s body will be moved to the Mount Herzl cemetery Friday at 8:30 a.m. and the official state ceremony will begin at 9:30. After the eulogies, a procession will head out at 11:00 to the cemetery’s Great Leaders of the Nation section, where the burial ceremony is scheduled to begin an hour later. Peres will be interred between the late prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin.

President Shimon Peres meets with US President Barack Obama at the White House on June 25, 2014. (Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO/FLASH90)
President Shimon Peres meets with US President Barack Obama at the White House on June 25, 2014. (Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO/FLASH90)

Beginning at 7 a.m. on Friday, all roads leading to Mount Herzl will be closed to traffic, including Agron, Ramban, Hecht, and Herzl Boulevard.

Among those planning to attend the funeral at Mount Herzl are US President Barack Obama, US Secretary of State John Kerry, French President Francois Hollande, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German President Joachim Gauck, British Prime Minister Theresa May, British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, former British prime minister David Cameron and Britain’s Prince Charles.

Press set up in front of a podium erected to hold the coffin of former Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, September 28, 2016. (Hadas Parushl/Flash90)
Press set up in front of a podium erected to hold the coffin of former Israeli president Shimon Peres at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, September 28, 2016. (Hadas Parushl/Flash90)

Ben Gurion, Israel’s main air terminal, is expected to handle an uptick in air traffic — including 30 commercial flights and over 50 private planes transporting dignitaries arriving for the funeral — throughout Thursday and into Friday.

Former US president Bill Clinton was the first from among the foreign leaders to arrive at the airport, which was effectively being split in two: one section to handle regular air traffic and process routine flights, and the second to handle the arrivals and departures of the foreign dignitaries. Clinton said he would come directly to Jerusalem to pass before the casket.

Police on Wednesday issued hasty traffic notifications across Jerusalem as security services prepared for the arrival of the dignitaries. Preparations to handle the surge in traffic began two weeks ago, according to reports, when Peres was admitted to Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer Hospital following his stroke.

The Knesset honor guard lowers the Israeli flag to half-staff during a ceremony in memory of Shimon Peres on September 28, 2016 (Hadas Parushl/Flash90)
The Knesset honor guard lowers the Israeli flag to half-staff during a ceremony in memory of Shimon Peres on September 28, 2016 (Hadas Parushl/Flash90)

Entrance to the funeral is to be tightly controlled. The public will be able to watch the proceedings live on large screens set up outside the cemetery. Police also put out a statement informing the public that it was “strictly forbidden” to fly drones in Jerusalem’s airspace on Thursday and Friday.

Israel Police Chief Roni Alsheich said preparations for securing and facilitating the funeral would be a “major — and in some ways, unprecedented — operation.”

Alsheich said the police’s job would be to “enable every last guest who wants to take part [in the funeral] to arrive [to Jerusalem] and make it back.”

Deputy Commissioner Alon Levavi, head of operations for the Israel Police, asked the public to be patient amid the closures.

“Presidents, very senior people, even dukes will be passing along these roads,” Levavi said Wednesday evening.

Chief of Police Roni Alsheich speaks with the media about the preparations of the Israeli police for the funeral of former president Shimon Peres at the police headquarters in Jerusalem September 28, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Chief of Police Roni Alsheich speaks with the media about the preparations of the Israeli police for the funeral of former president Shimon Peres at the police headquarters in Jerusalem September 28, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Musician David D’or will sing at the funeral by special request of Peres himself who asked for the performer in his will, the Hebrew-language Israel Hayom website reported.

He is expected to sing “Avinu Malkeinu” (Our Father, Our King) at the ceremony, a Jewish prayer recited on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) and Yom Kippur.

“When my beloved friend Yoni, the son of president Peres, notified me that the president asked in his will that I sing at his funeral, the tears flowed by themselves,” D’or said.

“The people of Israel lost a leader of unmatched scale, and I lost a close person, whose wisdom and power were an inspiration to me. From the place where he is now, he will watch over the people and the land that he loved so much. May his memory be blessed.”

AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

read more:
comments