In his heart, in his behavior and in his modest attitude both as foreign minister and as prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir still saw himself as an anonymous soldier in the service of his people, said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at a state funeral on Mount Herzl on Monday evening.
Netanyahu added that Israel’s seventh prime minister carried the burden of history on his shoulders and in his heart.
“He will be remembered as one of the nation’s great people,” Netanyahu said, as he eulogized Shamir.
Shamir had been an anonymous soldier in the underground when he fought against the British before the establishment of the state, said Netanyahu, and he was an anonymous soldier in Mossad when he fought to safeguard Israel’s security after the establishment of the state.
On Holocaust Remembrance Days, Netanyahu recalled, Shamir would always talk about his parents and siblings who had been murdered by the Nazis, and how that spurred him to devote himself to the continuity of the Jewish people.
Netanyahu credited Shamir with changing the face of Israel by bringing a million Russian immigrants to the country.
He was a man of few words, said Netanyahu, “but when he did speak you felt that the words that came out of his mouth had come straight from his heart.”
Among the thousands of people who came to pay their last respects were government ministers and MKs past and present; veterans of the Stern Group, Irgun and Mossad; religious leaders of different faiths; former activists in the struggle for Soviet Jewry and in the battle for Ethiopian Jews; a large contingent from the Ethiopian community that included many kessim (religious leaders), diplomats and ordinary people who felt the need to at least add their presence to the tributes that were being paid to one of the nation’s great heroes and leaders.
President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who had each served in governments headed by Shamir, delivered the main eulogies.
Peres served as vice premier and foreign minister in the 22nd government, and acting prime minister in the 23rd government, during which Shamir had his second stint as prime minister.
Netanyahu was deputy foreign minister and later a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office under Shamir.
In a photograph of the national unity 21st government, during which Shamir served as acting prime minister, there were more past, present and future presidents and prime ministers of Israel than at any other inauguration of a new government.
Those included Chaim Herzog, his predecessor Yitzhak Navon, Ezer Weizman, Moshe Katsav, Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon and Peres.
Both Peres and Netanyahu, in their own particular styles, emphasized Shamir’s patriotism, his love for his country and the Jewish people and his uncompromising belief in his ideology.
Peres noted that the praises of Shamir included his respect for Israel’s democracy, which enabled people of sharply divided viewpoints but with a common aim to sit in the same government.
Although their ideologies were vastly different, said Peres, he and Shamir had sat together in national unity governments for six years, recognizing their common roots and common purpose.
Peres and Netanyahu each made a point of emphasizing how committed Shamir had been both as foreign minister and prime minister to bringing Jews living in distress in countries of oppression to Israel where he was also instrumental in facilitating their absorption..
Shamir was heavily engaged in both Operation Moses and Operation Solomon said Peres, and before that had worked diligently towards the opening of the gates of the Soviet Union so that Jews could leave and come to Israel.
Shamir’s son, Yair, his voice trembling slightly, said that his father had been a wonderful role model both as a national leader and as the head of a family.
The funeral was carefully orchestrated in terms of the milestones in Shamir’s life.
Yossi Ahimeir, who director of the Prime Minister’s Office under Shamir, was the master of ceremonies.
Peres and Netanyahu, who delivered eulogies, both worked with him. Yair Stern, son of Avraham Stern of the Stern gang, with whom Shamir worked closely against the British, also spoke.
Even the wreath laying contained elements of Shamir’s background.
The wreath on behalf of the government was laid by Vice Premier Dan Meridor, who served as justice minister in Shamir’s second and third governments. Meridor’s father was a friend and colleague of Shamir before that.
Justice Miriam Naor laid the wreath on behalf of the Supreme Court.
Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, when he arrived in Israel in February 1986, following his release from a Soviet prison, was greeted at Ben-Gurion Airport by Shamir and Peres and walked with them, hands held high, across the tarmac.
Official wreaths were also laid by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, the World Zionist Organization, the IDF, the Israel Police, Mossad, the Diplomatic Corps, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, the Stern Group, Irgun, Betar, the Jabotinsky Institute and Likud. Many more wreaths and other floral tributes were laid by members of the public.
Shamir was buried alongside his wife, Shulamit, who died last year.