SDE BOKER (Dec. 3)
This tiny desert kibbutz where David Ben Gurion chose to make his home 20 years ago has been visited over the years by thousands of friends and admirers of the founder of Israel’s Statehood. Today it was the scene of a final pilgrimage as Ben Gurion’s body was laid to rest in a simple grave dug on a sandstone cliff overlooking a Negev desert landscape–the Biblical “Wilderness of Zin.” It is a setting where one would expect to see camel caravans trailing on the horizon. Today the silence was broken by the roar of five helicopters descending from the skies, bringing the funeral party and the remains of the leader from Jerusalem.
The copter bearing the simple pine coffin draped in a prayer shawl and the Israeli flag was the last to land. The other four carried Ben Gurion’s children–Renana, Geulah and Amos–and his grandchildren; President Ephraim Katzir. Premier Golda Meir, former President Zalman Shazar; Mrs. Rachel Ben Zvi, widow of Israel’s second President; Cabinet ministers; Knesset members; the Army Chief of Staff; the Chief of Police; and other military and civilian dignitaries. The final phase of the funeral was similar to the solemn procession that took place in Jerusalem earlier in the day, but on a smaller scale. Little more than 100 persons attended, all of them, except for foreign dignitaries and the military guard of honor, relatives or close friends and associates of the former Prime Minister.
As in Jerusalem, the procession from the helicopter to the gravesite was led by members of the army chaplaincy corps. Senior officers of the three armed services served as pall bearers and honor guard. At the freshly dug grave, the honor guard stood at attention as a chaplain chanted the “El Mole Rahamim.” Ben Gurion’s son, Amos, recited a final Kaddish in a voice that was firm but choked with tears. And the coffin was lowered into the ground, alongside the grave of Ben Gurion’s wife, Paula, who died five years ago. For the time being, Ben Gurion’s grave is marked by a temporary wooden sign–identical to the markers placed on the graves of Israeli soldiers fallen in battle.