At dawn Thursday, the morning of Israel’s 68th Independence Day, Israel’s city streets lay quiet, a stark change from the all-night celebrations that dominated the country’s major city centers late Wednesday.
Tens of thousands spent the night on the beaches of the Sea of Galilee, which local authorities said were filled to overflowing overnight with revelers who planned to hold the traditional Independence Day barbecues on the crowded beaches the following morning.
In Ashdod, Beersheba, Jerusalem, Haifa and other major cities, famous (and not so famous) performers entertained crowds through the night.
In Ramat Gan, 12 different stages throughout the city saw performances that lasted into the morning. The city estimated that some 60,000 people took part in the street celebrations.
Fireworks shows, including the largest one held on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem Wednesday evening, lit up the skies.
Wednesday night’s festivities saw only light injuries, some from errant fireworks. In Rosh Ha’ayin, east of Tel Aviv, sparks from detonated fireworks at the city’s traditional Independence Day celebration swept across the audience, leading police to cancel the rest of the fireworks show.
In Ramle, a toddler was lightly hurt from sparks and was taken to Assaf Harofe Hospital. And in Yavne, a woman was lightly injured from fireworks sparks that flew into her apartment through an open window. She was taken to Kaplan Hospital.
Thursday’s daytime celebrations officially began at 9:30 a.m. with a ceremony at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. VIPs and political leaders were in attendance, and the president awarded the army’s annual citations for distinguished service to deserving soldiers.
The president, IDF chief of staff, prime minister and defense minister listened to their favorite Independence Day songs performed by the IDF orchestra and guest singers.
A flyover of combat planes and helicopters marked the beginning of the festivities. Flyovers by the Air Force are a popular part of the day, especially on the Mediterranean beaches, where families bring folding chairs — and, of course, barbecues — to watch the show.
While the day is a holiday for most Israelis, the security services upped their level of alert and closed off entry to Israel for West Bank Palestinians for the day out of fear that terror groups are likely to seek to puncture the festivities with violence.
Hundreds of extra police officers are deployed in city centers and on the nation’s highways in an effort to prevent injury amid the revelry.