Hundreds of thousands of Israelis flocked 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.
Some 200,000 Israelis were at the country’s national parks, with 48,000 visiting the Banias Nature Reserve in the Golan Heights and 18,000 camped around the Sea of the Galilee, according to the parks authority.
A highlight of the day was the cross-country flyover of military jets and helicopters, which for the second year included 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.
“It is no secret that during these celebratory moments IDF soldiers and security forces are on high alert,” said Rivlin at the ceremony, addressing Iran tensions on the northern border. “It is no secret that we are facing Iranian attempts to directly harm the State of Israel. Dear soldiers, we see the burden of responsibility placed on your young shoulders. Thank you.”
The annual international Bible Quiz competition finals took place after the ceremony. The winner of the contest was named as Azriel Shilat, from Hatzor Haglilit.
The IDF also opened its bases to the public, displaying jeeps, tanks and other equipment throughout the country.
More than 20,000 Israelis attended an open house day at a national training facility for police officers, hosted by the Public Security Ministry. Police said around 3 p.m. that all parking spots allocated to visitors filled up and asked the public not to near the area.
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.