At 9:30 am, President Shimon Peres held a reception at this Jerusalem residence for past and present Israel Defense Forces commanders. The event was attended by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (who was 10 minutes late and missed the traditional photo-op), Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the General Staff chiefs, as well as former presidents and prime ministers.
Peres told the past commanders, "I am very excited today. Here we see the essence of bravery and excellence, and in this room we have the opportunity of seeing the people who have created one of the greatest miracles experienced by humanity – the State of Israel.
"The IDF has hidden strength. We are much stronger than what we and others believe. I want to say this clearly – the people have who to trust in, who to thank and who to plant hope in."
Peres later presented 120 outstanding soldiers with merit certificates, and representatives of the diplomatic corps serving in Israel arrived to congratulate the president in honor of Independence Day.
'Soldiers have hidden forces'
Speaking during the ceremony honoring the outstanding soldiers, Peres said that "according to cold logic, Israel could not have been established and could not have defended itself. How did this happen? What is the real secret? You are part of this secret. It's called 'the outstanding ones.' Israel was victorious because its sons excelled, above and beyond what is accepted. Excellence is proof that we can overcome a sea of hatred and continue to hope."
The president added, "The message you deliver to every soldier in the IDF, to every young woman and man in Israel is that you possess hidden forces. Enlist. Volunteer. Excel. Let the superior in you rise. You will be surprised by the great potential you have…
"Excelling in the army allows the State to excel in other fields as well. In the economy, in science, in art, in innovative milieus. The military excellence is the greatest gift young people can give their country, being a peace-seeking country. Because we did not only win wars. We also reached two peace agreements with Egypt and with Jordan, and we are negotiations with the Palestinians and trying to talk to the Syrians.
The traditional Bible Quiz for Jewish youth began at the Jerusalem Theater at 11 am. Sixteen youths took part in the quiz, four of them from Israel and the rest from across the world.
IAF aircraft prepare for special air show (Photo: AP)
Those who wished to mark the holiday in a military atmosphere simply had to look up to the sky, as the Israel Air Force held a special air show over the following cities: Beersheba, Yeruham, Dimona, Arad, Beit Shemesh, Jerusalem, Beit Shean, Afula, Nazareth, Tiberias, Katzrin, Safed, Carmiel, Nahariya, Haifa, Netanya, Tel Aviv, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Sderot, Netivot and Ofakim.
Aerobatic and parachuting showsIAF aircraft and helicopters will hold aerobatic and aerial rescue shows were held in front of Tel Aviv's Jerusalem Beach. Instructors of the parachuting school and the Israeli parachuting association presented the number 60 in a free fall and landed in front of the audience.
Paratroopers from Israel and the world skydived in the different cities. Some 100 paratroopers from foreign armies, who have arrived in Israel ahead of the 60th anniversary celebrations, landed on Ashkelon's coasts.
The 2008 Israel Prizes will be handed out in the Jerusalem Theater at 7:30 pm. The laureates include Israeli theater persona Nissan Nativ who passed away about two weeks ago, author Ida Fink and the Jewish Agency.
Roni Sofer contributed to this report