Hundreds of thousands of Israelis flocked to beaches and parks, lighting grills, waving flags and craning their necks for a first glimpse of Israel’s newest fighter jets to mark the country’s 69th Independence Day Tuesday.
After a night of fireworks, concerts, parties and an emotional crossover from Memorial Day to Independence Day, most across the country were spending the day celebrating.
A highlight of the day was the cross-country flyover of military jets and helicopters, including the first-ever public appearance of F-35 jets, considered the most advanced plane in the world, newly acquired from the US.
The jets flew past Beersheba at 11:26 a.m., the Tel Nof air base at 11:44 a.m., Jerusalem at 11:50 a.m., the Ramat David air base at 12:03 p.m., Haifa at 12:23 p.m. and Tel Aviv at 12:33 p.m., before returning to base.
More flyovers and airshows with other planes were also planned for throughout the country.
(A detailed timetable can be found below)
Celebrations in Jerusalem kicked off Tuesday morning at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, where President Reuven Rivlin hosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot and others for a musical ceremony honoring 121 soldiers receiving commendations for excellence.
“Jerusalem for me is everything… it is a microcosm… where we are tested on whether we can live together in peace,” Rivlin said at the ceremony, praising his native city, which will celebrate 50 years of unification later this month.
The annual Bible Quiz competition finals were slated to take place after the ceremony.
Masses were visiting national parks and museums throughout the day, most of which throw open their gates for free, as well as IDF displays of jeeps, tanks and other equipment at bases throughout the country.
On Monday night, mournful and somber speeches gave way to joyful celebrations, with flags promptly raised back from half-staff.
At the military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, the transition was marked with an extravagant state ceremony featuring a speech from Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, the lighting of torches by 12 people who are seen to have made an outstanding contribution to society, and much singing and dancing.
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.
The sudden switch is often seen as a difficult transition for bereaved families.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recorded a short video that was screened at the start of the ceremony.
אין כמו המדינה שלנו. אין כמו העם שלנו. חג עצמאות שמח, ישראל! There is no country like ours. There is no people like ours. Happy Independence Day, Israel!
Posted by Benjamin Netanyahu – בנימין נתניהו on Monday, May 1, 2017
“For thousands of years we dreamed of having our own flag, an army to watch over us and a state of our own,” he said. “Israel has never been so strong. What a tremendous change in the destiny of our nation… Who would have believed?”
The prime minister also posted an English-language message on his social media accounts.
Rivlin earlier released an Independence Day statement, praising the country, but also saying it needed continual work to uphold Israel’s values.
“We will continue to look deep inside ourselves to solve the problems and turn challenges into opportunities. We will continue to uphold our values, which guide us on this path,” he said. “On this day, on our Independence Day, let us all work to be sure that our national home is a home that looks after the weak, and cares for all its sons and daughters. This is the duty of our leaders, but it is also the duty of each and every one of us.”