Hundreds of thousands of Israelis were flocking to beaches and parks, lighting grills, waving flags and craning their necks for a glimpse of Israel’s fighter jets to mark the country’s 70th Independence Day on Thursday.
After a night of fireworks, concerts, parties and an emotional crossover from Memorial Day to Independence Day, most Israelis were spending the day, a national holiday, celebrating the country’s birthday.
A highlight of the day will be the cross-country flyover of military jets and helicopters, which will for the second year include Israel’s fleet of F-35 jets, considered the most advanced plane in the world.
Celebrations in Jerusalem kicked off Thursday morning at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, where President Reuven Rivlin was hosting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot and others for a musical ceremony honoring over 100 soldiers receiving commendations for excellence.
The annual Bible Quiz competition finals were slated to take place after the ceremony.
Masses were expected to visit national parks and museums — many of which are open without charge — as well as IDF displays of jeeps, tanks and other equipment at bases throughout the country.
On Wednesday night, the mournful and somber speeches of Memorial Day gave way to joyful celebrations, with flags promptly raised back from half-staff.
The juxtaposition of the two days is a key element of Israelis’ experience of national independence, ensuring that no commemoration completely excludes the achievement wrought by the sacrifice of the fallen and their families, and that the elation of independence is never far removed from an awareness of its cost.
At the military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, the transition was marked with an extravagant state ceremony featuring the lighting of torches by 12 people who are seen to have made an outstanding contribution to society– as well as one by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and another by Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein — and much singing and dancing.
The ceremony featured an elaborate musical flashback of Jewish history, with actors singing and dancing through events dating back to the biblical era.
In one scene representing the Holocaust era, child actors dressed in clothing badged with yellow stars quickly gathered their belongings as Nazi soldiers could be heard marching with barking dogs in the background.
A later scene showed pioneers arriving Israel, and young workers beginning the construction of the revived Jewish state.
The scenes were notable for featuring a diverse range of performers, representing Jews of European, Middle Eastern and African origin.
Preparations for the official ceremony were shadowed this year by a bitter row between Edelstein and Culture Minister Miri Regev over Netanyahu’s determination to attend the event and address the invited guests. Traditionally, the Knesset speaker is the most senior official at the event and it is kept free of politics. Edelstein, who initially wanted to to boycott the event, reached a compromise deal allowing Netanyahu to light a torch on behalf of all the governments of Israel since the founding of the state and make a short speech.
Edelstein used his speech to hail Israel’s diverse populations, calling the bonds between them “the secret to the Israeli magic.”
Israeli society is a “wonderful mosaic of tribes and colors, beliefs and opinions, countries of origin and ways of life. The diversity is the source of our power and is what fuels our engine of growth,” he said.
Netanyahu lit a torch after a fiery speech in which he declared that Israel is turning into a rising world power.
Addressing adversaries of the Jewish state, Netanyahu proudly stated that “in another 70 years, you’ll find here a country that is 70 times stronger because what we’ve done until today is just the beginning!”
He thanked US President Trump for his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its embassy to the holy city. Calling the relationship with the United States a historic one,” Netanyahu says: “Thank you President Trump! Thank you America!”
Netanyahu said “admiration for Israel” was finally beginning to be felt in the Arab world and said Israel stretched out its hand in peace to those in the region that seek peace.
If required to do so, Israel will always rise to meet the challenge of defending itself against its enemies, he said. The capacity to defend itself, by itself, said Netanyahu, is “the essence” of independence.