Israelis headed out to nature en masse on Thursday to mark the country’s 64th birthday with picnics and particularly barbecues, the activity most heavily associated with Independence Day. Hundreds of thousands visited the country’s national parks, heritage sites, museums and weapons exhibitions, which welcomed visitors and offered special activities throughout the day. With major routes congested, many also spent a considerable amount of time braving the heavy Independence Day traffic.
According to Channel 2, they also left behind over 400 tons of trash.
Daytime celebrations in honor of Independence Day officially began at 9:30 on Thursday morning with a ceremony at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. VIPs and political leaders were in attendance at the ceremony, which was broadcast live on the president’s Facebook page.
Later in the day, Peres hosted foreign diplomats stationed in Israel at an Independence Day reception. According to Ynet News, Peres told the diplomats that Israel seeks peace and that its biggest challenge is to make peace with the Palestinians by convincing both sides that peace is worth paying for. Upon surmounting this challenge, Israel will be able to concentrate on building a better future for its children, Peres reportedly said.
A flyover of combat planes and helicopters started off the festivities. The president, IDF chief of staff, prime minister and defense minister sang their favorite Independence Day songs with the IDF band and an accompaniment of singers. What the men lacked in singing ability, they certainly made up for in spirit.
The guests of honor were joined onstage by 120 outstanding IDF soldiers, who were presented with awards.
In his remarks to the crowd, President Shimon Peres said “Israel is stronger than ever,” and commended the IDF, its soldiers, officers and leader, Benny Gantz. The IDF chief, for his part, saluted the assembly of outstanding soldiers who were seated behind him, and said, “Remember, as you leave the stage and go back to your units, that your peers are looking up to you.”
The IDF was hosting events at bases and other sites throughout the country on Thursday. In addition, sixty-four heritage sites were open to the public.
For those who enjoy checking out armored vehicles and weaponry, Camp Samson, near the Golani Junction, is open to the public between 9:00 and 14:00.
The Shomron Brigade base (Horon) is open from 9:00 to 16:00. Armored vehicles, weaponry and observation posts will be on exhibit. Paintball ranges and additional attractions for children will available.
Natan Camp in Beersheba and Metzudat Yoav were open with similar exhibits of armored vehicles and weaponry from 9:00 to 14:00.
If tanks are on the agenda, Yad LaShirion at Latrun is open from 8:00 to 16:00 with a ground forces exhibition including armor, artillery, infantry and other military displays. Hummers, assault and sniper rifles and more are on display along with IDF combat soldier explanations.
The IAF base at Ramat David and the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa were open to the public from 9:00 to 13:00. Past and present aircraft and weapons were on display.
The IAF Museum in Hatzerim is open from 9:00 to 17:00. Airplanes from the 1950s will flyover, a band will perform and 150 different aircraft are on display with tours in English, Spanish, Russian and Hebrew.
No personal weapons nor pets are allowed on IDF bases. ID must be presented to enter the bases. Two-wheel vehicles will not be allowed in bases.
Those looking for a more historically themed way of celebrating can check out the (Hebrew) website for the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites. The society offers listings for museums and activities throughout the South, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Center and the North.
Details for a number of activities are available at IsraelKids‘ family resource page.
The following activities were also scheduled for Thursday:
The Lehi Museum hosts free activities at 10:30, 12:00, 13:30 and 15:00, all in Hebrew.
At 17:00 an interactive dance and music performance takes place in the Jerusalem Theater plaza, Jerusalem. Cost: NIS 15.
At 10:00, 12:00 and 17:00, at Liberty Bell Park in Jerusalem, there is a theatrical performance of the story of Chelm and Eastern European Jewish folklore. Cost: NIS 10.
Israel Kids: The public was invited to take part in tours, song and sing along with Sarale Sharone at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, 11:30; Hebrew. Cost: N/A.
Music, food, dance and BBQ will all be at the Yellow Submarine in Talpiot, Jerusalem, for kids and adults; Hebrew. Cost: NIS 10.
The Israel Museum has free dancing from 11:00 – 14:00. The dancing will be led by Mimi Kogan and performance by Hora Jerusalem.
More listings are available at the Israel Kids website.
Finally, for those without families and in the military, there are two massive BBQs for over 300 lone soldiers at Jerusalem’s Gan Sacher park and 200 lone soldiers are expected at Tel Aviv’s Arlozorov Park (corner of Derek Namir).
The Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin is hosting the event. The event will cater to the 2300 lone soldiers from 52 countries who reside in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, from 11:00 to 16:00 on Thursday.
Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.