Israel initiated its Independence Day celebrations with the official ceremony in Herzl Mount in Jerusalem, where 12 torches where lit. This ceremony symbolically ends Memorial Day and marks the beginning of Independence Day celebrations. Later, Israelis celebrated in the streets, around dozens of outdoor stages offering musicians and actors.
Knesset Chairman Reuven Rivlin said in his address before lighting a torch, that in 2009, Israel is “more democratic, more open, more Jewish in its identity and culture.” He said that Israel today is also more tolerant and less demagogic. “It may be less ideological, but it has more idealists,” he said.
The focus of the ceremony was Tel Aviv, Israel’s second-largest city, which is celebrating its centennial this year. Shlomo Lahat, who has formerly served as Tel Aviv mayor for 20 years, was the first to light a torch.
Dozens of stages were erected all over Israel, on which famous and less-famous artists performed. Israelis took to the street and celebrated 61 years of independence. Fireworks were fired in many places throughout Israel.
On one occasion, in Even Yehuda city, a firework operator was critically injured in his neck when a firework hit him. He was rushed to the hospital for emergency treatment.
Memorial Day Preceded the Celebrations
Israeli Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day preceded the celebrations and was marked on Tuesday. The official memorial ceremony was held in Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. Hundreds of other memorial ceremonies took place all over Israel in schools, universities, community centers, as well as municipal ceremonies and others. More than 20,000 Israeli Soldiers have died in service of their country.
One exceptional ceremony was held in a Tel Aviv theater. It was a memorial ceremony for both Israelis and Palestinians. Hundreds of Arabs and Jews came to participate in the event.
“We have to cross our hands and achieve peace for the two peoples. We have to stop the violence and the bloodshed,” said Sima Ambus, an Arab who was formerly prisoner in an Israeli jail, and is one of the founders of Combatants for Peace, the organization which hosted this event.
Combatants for Peace is a group of Israelis and Palestinians who were actively part of military or violent acts in the Israeli-Arab conflict, and decided to refrain from violence and promote peace.
Idan Meir of Combatants for Peace told his personal story during the ceremony. “In April 1995, I joined the Sea Commando unit,” he said.
“Within 20 months, I was changed from a little high school student to a ‘minor tactics warfare’ expert. I believed that serving in this unit was the best way for me to contribute to the society and to the state. I had a feeling of satisfaction and pride. On September 5, 1997, the euphoric feeling exploded—just like the bomb which killed twelve of my friends from the unit—twelve combatants who were sent to a very important operation deep in Lebanon and never came back.”
Israel’s Population Is Growing
According to an Independence Day report published by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel’s current population is 7,411,000. About 75 percent of the population are of Jewish descent, and 20 percent are Arabs. It is predicted that Israel’s population in 2030 will be 10 million.