Israel's 62nd Independence Day celebrations commenced Monday evening with the traditional torch-lighting ceremony at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. The theme of this year's ceremony was Theodor (Binyamin Ze'ev) Herzl's adage, "If you will it, it is no dream" – and it honored the State's achievements on the 150th birthday of its visionary.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a special statement for the occasion, saying, "On this Independence Day we mark two of the Jewish nation's miracles: The miracle of revival and the miracle of building. The miracle of revival, because I an not familiar with any other nation in history that was scattered all over the world and lost control of its destiny but still managed to return to its homeland and rebuild its sovereignty there.
"The other miracle is building: What we have built in this land since the State of Israel's inception. Israel is quickly becoming a regional economic superpower and a global technological superpower. In this world of knowledge in the 21st century our possibilities are endless: In science, medicine, technology and art. In each and every field, the forces of genius within our nation break out and create a magnificent country," the PM's statement read.
Celebrating independence in Jerusalem (Photo: AFP)
Netanyahu also mentioned the nation's capital, saying, "We are not here by chance. We are here because this is our land. We've returned to our land, to our city - Jerusalem - because this is our land, this is our city.
"I know there are many more miracles ahead of us. Herzl said, 'If you will it, it is no dream,' – we willed it. We wanted what so many generations of Jews wanted; (Jews) who dreamed and prayed and cried a sea of tears with the hope that we will make it to this place," said Netanyahu, "I know we are capable of creating many more miracles."
Goofing-around in Jerusalem (Photo: AFP)
During the ceremony, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin spoke about Herzl's contribution: "Sixty two years after the vision of Altneuland (the old new land) materialized, we, the generation of the country's inception, know full well that Israel's salvation came to us not by prophets, nor by diplomats, but only by those who dared to stop dreaming and start realizing; only by those who ceased to wait for the moment in which the revival of Israel will be in the hands of a Caesar, foreign king or government; only by those who rose up and made a move."
Rivlin spoke of life in Jerusalem, and the divisions among the city's population. "In an era of cultural openness, we are witnessing a dangerous process of deepening entrenchment of each group behind its four walls. This entrenchment only brings about cultural and political polarization.
"Look, for example, what Jerusalem has become in the past decade: separate neighborhoods, separate public transportation, separate shopping malls for haredim and seculars, Arabs and Jews. Ghettos separated by walls of estrangement, if not by walls of cement," he said.
"Before I light a torch," added Rivlin," Look how distant Jerusalem's reality is from the vision that brought the city together. Can we, in our current state, while under a harsh and painful offensive over the sovereignty of our own capital, say wholeheartedly that we had no part in its division into tribes, bits-and-pieces? Have we become addicted to walls yet again?
"The same walls that protect us, supposedly, from the 'other', but in fact only chain us to our fears? Our fear of the 'other' across the wall, be it an Arab or a haredi, is contradictory to the essence of Zionism; contradictory to everything that Zionism has created here over the past 150 years," he said.
The following were selected to light torches in this year's ceremony:
- Dalia Dorner, president of the Israeli Press Council and retired Supreme Court Judge.
- Ram Belinkov, former head of the finance ministry's budget division.
- Yossi Feldman, founder of Ein Gedi Field School and the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites.
- Sarah Shpechner, 91, who was a Palmah parachutist in Europe during the Nazi occupation and the first Israeli Women's Corps officer in the IDF.
- Amnon Lavi, principal of the Golani school for special needs children in Beit Shean who went blind at a young age.
- Tel-El Filou, 17, an instructor and organizer in the Tzofei Ha'Eda youth movement in Modi'in.
- Yousef Matanes, A Bir'im-native Arab Christian, active in promoting coexistence between Jews and Arabs.
- Professor Ariel Feldstein, head of the Sapir College academic program and one of the nation's leading experts on the life and philosophy of Theodore Herzl.
- Asher Hirsch, 83, head of the Zionist General Council and a veteran member of the Zionist administration.
- Eyra Chaitin, who works with the Jewish National Fund in the field of forestry – an occupation considered rare among women.
- Tzvi Levanon, 79, a reserve colonel in the IDF who serves as director of the Haganah Veterans Association on its 90th anniversary.
- Avraham Greenzeid, 84, who served as an officer in the Red army and fought many battles against the Nazis.
- Raya Strauss-Ben Dror, from the founding family of Strauss food company, who has spent her time establishing volunteer framework to promote Israeli society.
- Major Doctor Avraham Yitzchak, 37, who immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia at age 18 and is close to completing his studies as a surgeon.
According to data published by the Central Bureau of Statistics ahead of Independence Day, the State of Israel has a total population estimated at 7,587,000 people.
The Jewish population is estimated at some 5,726,000 (75.5% of the total population) and the Arab population at some 1,548,000 (20.4%), while the population of those considered "others," who do not belong to either group, is estimated at 313,000 (4.1%). Many belonging to the "others" group include immigrants who are not listed as Jews with the Ministry of Interior.
As for the weather, the forecast shows fair weather on Monday, but on Tuesday temperatures will rise and those planning to BBQ outdoors are recommended to dress lightly and drink plenty of water.