graves ilan ramon assaf 248.
(photo credit: Channel 2)
Thousands of friends, family members, public figures and private citizens attended the funeral of Assaf Ramon on Monday afternoon at the military cemetery in Nahalal. Ramon died Sunday afternoon when his Israel Air Force F-16 jet crashed in the South Hebron Hills.
Assaf was buried next to his father, Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died in the Columbia space shuttle disaster six years ago. Ramon, 20, was promoted to the rank of captain after his death.
Rona Ramon, mother of the fallen IAF pilot, spoke at her son's funeral, saying that while she was devastated that Assaf had been killed, she knows he is with his father.
"I'm so angry, I'm trapped," Rona said. "My Assaf, this is my grave. This is my spot. You should have buried me here as an elderly nice lady with a million grandchildren," she said.
"They promised me they would look after you, they promised to look after Dad. I know that you're looking after him now," the bereaved mother cried, "but I wanted you next to me."
President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, IAF commander Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan, as well as ministers and MKs arrived at the Nahalal ceremony. Netanyahu postponed a meeting with US Mideast envoy George Mitchell until Tuesday in order to attend the funeral.
In his eulogy for Assaf, Peres said that "every heart breaks today because the son of the Ramon family was the son of us all - today we are all the Ramon family."
Peres began by praising the fallen IAF officer, saying that Assaf "was one of the best of our sons. He carries with him a rich heritage of patriotism, wisdom and generosity - a heritage deeply rooted within a family that was connected to the Jewish people's history and the courage of the state of Israel."
The president then spoke of Assaf's father Ilan, saying that both father and son were "honorable, brave and courageous, always ready to serve. They were prepared to take on any task. They both grew up as high achievers and fell for their country as the highest achievers," Peres said.
Peres addressed bereaved wife and mother Rona personally, praising her strength in the face of tragedy.
"Rona, you were already brave and you will remain brave. Our broken heart is with you in every tear that falls, in every memory that causes you to smile, in every moment of stinging pain," he said.
"I know that words that can heal this wound have not yet been created, there aren't proper words of consolation when an entire nation is aching and crying... There is nothing that can replace the heartbeats when one hears the steps of a son returning home from his base at the end of the week, nor is there anything that can fill the empty bed, the closet, the military shirt with the wings, the laughter, hugs and kisses, the 'Hello' and 'Goodbye'," the president concluded.
A spokesperson for the US State Department issued a statement offering condolences to the Ramon family and the people of Israel.
"We offer our deepest sympathies to Rona Ramon, the Ramon family, and the people of Israel on the loss of their son, brother, and compatriot, Assaf," the statement read. "The Ramon family will always have a special connection to the United States, because of what we endured together during the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy."
Americans mourn together with the people of Israel, read the statement, and "hope that the memory of Assaf's dedicated and honorable service to his country tempers their grief. "
After the funeral, which was closed to the press, the IAF commander spoke to reporters.
"This is a sad day for all the people of Israel, a sad day for the Air Force. Today we are all one family, embracing Rona, Tal, Iftach and Noa," Nehushtan said, referring to the fallen pilot's mother and three siblings.
Nehushtan added that if he could reveal the young IAF pilots to the public eye, he would do so, because he is "extremely proud" of them.
"If I could present these youths to you, the friends that carried the coffin of Assaf z"l, I would show you their facesâ€¦ Just like Assaf, these people are dedicated to working every day, every hour, to protect the country," Nehushtan said.
At the beginning of the funeral, Nevatim air base commander, Brig. Gen. Eden Atias made similar comments.
"Today we share the family's grief... this event is bigger than the squadron, bigger than the air force, it is a national event," Atias said.
"But tomorrow, we take the young ones back in the sky, because we must continue their training. This machine," he said, referring to the air force, "must continue working."
Atias spoke of the grief of the family and the nation, saying "we all hurt, we are all human, we must remember that at the end of the day the people flying these craft are also just human."
He said Ramon's colleagues in the squadron vehemently insisted to be those to carry his coffin.
The cause of the accident was under investigation and was complicated by the extent of the crash scene, but an initial probe indicated that he blacked out during a sharp turn - possibly at 9 Gs - or experienced vertigo. A less likely possibility is that the plane may have had a mechanical failure that Ramon could not solve, but he was not able to report on his condition.
Media reporters remained outside the cemetery perimeters, honoring a request by the Ramon family to stay out of the funeral itself.
Yaakov Katz contributed to this story