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Muted Independence Day celebrations salute medical staff fighting virus

With gatherings banned due to curfew confining Israelis to their homes, the most visible public display will be an air force flyover of hospitals and medical centers

Staff at Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer wave national flags as the Israeli Air Force aerobatic team fly over the hospital during Israel's Independence day celebrations in a salute to medical teams fighting the coronavirus outbreak, April 29, 2020. (JACK GUEZ/AFP)
Staff at Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer wave national flags as the Israeli Air Force aerobatic team fly over the hospital during Israel's Independence day celebrations in a salute to medical teams fighting the coronavirus outbreak, April 29, 2020. (JACK GUEZ/AFP)

Israel was gearing up to mark its 72nd Independence Day with a salute to medical staff Wednesday as most of the population remains at home under a curfew imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Official ceremonies went ahead, though in a subdued format, while the traditional outdoor barbecues, street parties and general public revelry that accompanies the holiday have been canceled to avoid a fresh flare of the pandemic, which has killed over 200 and infected more than 15,000 in the country.

The nationwide Independence Day curfew went into effect at 5 p.m. Tuesday. During the curfew, which will be in effect until 8 p.m. Wednesday, Israelis will not be permitted to travel more than 100 meters from their homes except for medical and other vital needs.

With outdoor cookouts in parks and beaches banned, Israelis will only be able to hold their traditional barbecues on their balconies and in their yards.

The curfew was declared as an emergency measure voted on by the cabinet earlier this week.

People celebrating Israel’s 71st Independence Day in Saker Park in Jerusalem, May 9, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

An annual Independence Day celebration event hosted by President Reuven Rivlin at his official residence in Jerusalem will be broadcast Wednesday on television. Recorded in advance rather than shown live as in previous years, the ceremony will not include the usual audience and guests, and there will be no band. There will be a recorded interview with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, and a plethora of Israeli celebrities will feature in the production.

Th annual Independence Day flyby, a popular and iconic feature of celebrations, was also canceled to prevent people from gathering to watch the jets and other military aircraft zoom. The military instead planned a smaller performance by its fleet of acrobatic planes over the nation’s hospitals to salute medical staff, with four planes in formation flying around the country between 9:40 a.m. and 3:50 p.m.

“Four Efroni Beechcraft T-6 Texan II0 planes will fly over the country’s hospitals and salute the efforts of medical teams and the entire healthcare system, who are fighting the war against the coronavirus,” the military said in a statement.

President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu take part in an event at the President’s Residence honoring outstanding soldiers during Israel’s 71st Independence Day, May 9, 2019. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The flyover was set to start at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon at 9:40 a.m., with the planes then heading to Tel Aviv, crossing the center of the country and heading north to pass over Safed and Haifa at around 12:40. Moving back down the coast, the planes will fly over the cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod at around 3 p.m.

The aircraft will pass over Jerusalem’s hospitals at around 3:20 p.m. and finish up in Beersheba.

The planes, from the IAF aerobatic team, will perform aerobatics over the hospitals and also use smoke trails to draw hearts in the sky.

Ahead of Independence Day the IDF released video of the pilots practicing for the flyover.

The flypast has been criticized by some as an unnecessary expense at a time when the economy is reeling from the effects of national lockdown measures that brought it to an almost-total standstill.

The air force has defended the performance by explaining the show did not require a special allocation of resources and is considered part of the training for their pilots, who are flight instructors and fighter pilots, the Ynet news site reported.

In other events during the day, the IDF will offer virtual tours of some of its bases that are usually open to the public on Independence Day but remain shuttered due to the curfew. Access will be via the IDF website (Hebrew).

Israeli medical team of Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer wave national flags as Israeli Air Force (IAF) planes fly over the hospital during Israel’s Independence day (Yom Ha’atzmaut) celebrations amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in Ramat Gan on April 29, 2020. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The celebrations began on Tuesday night as the country transitioned from the sober Memorial Day into Independence Day.

The annual torch-lighting ceremony, a centerpiece of the shift to Independence Day, was prerecorded for the first time at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl military cemetery and took place without an audience present. Mount Herzl, along with all other military cemeteries in the country, was locked on Monday to all visitors, to prevent gatherings on the annual remembrance day for Israel’s 23,816 fallen soldiers and terror victims.

Fireworks light up the skies in Holon as Israel celebrates its 72th Independence Day under lockdown, April 28, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Although firework shows had been approved, many municipalities canceled their annual displays. The walls of the Old City in Jerusalem were lit up with Israeli flags and banners marking the 72nd independence day.

Police began establishing a network of 44 roadblocks on main roads throughout the country on Tuesday, including at all major highway junctions, to enforce the new restrictions, though intercity travel had already been barred as part of a nationwide lockdown for Memorial Day, which began Monday night and stretches until the start of Independence Day.

The restrictions, similar to those that were in force during the first day of Passover on April 19 and 20, are intended to prevent the large gatherings of family and friends traditional during the holidays.

The Independence Day lockdown comes alongside Ramadan restrictions in Muslim-majority areas, intended to prevent the traditionally festive gatherings of fast-breakers in the evenings. In Muslim towns, businesses are required to close from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. every night until May 3, with the exception of pharmacies and home delivery services.

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