President Reuven Rivlin awarded the Medal of Excellence to 120 exemplary soldiers and officers of the IDF on Thursday morning.
Attending the annual Independence Day ceremony at the President's Residence were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, and the top echelons of Israeli politicial and defense officials, including past and present IDF generals.
The event began with an honorary fly-over of fighter jets over the President's Residence in Jerusalem, as a salute to the exemplary soldiers and officers, who represent all branches and departments of the IDF.
President Rivlin and IDF Chief Eisenkot then inspected the lines of soldiers standing at attention outside the President's Residence and welcomed them.
"The celebrations here are a salute to the IDF. Our IDF, an IDF that is us," Rivlin told the soldiers during the ceremony.
"It is no secret that in these very festive moments, IDF soldiers and security forces are on high alert. It is no secret we have faced and still face direct Iranian attempts to hurt the State of Israel. Our dear soldiers, we see the weight of the responsibility on your young shoulders. Thank you," he added.
IDF chief Eisenkot echoed Rivlin's comments, noting that "Tens of thousands of soldiers stand on guard to identify enemy threats, defend the country and remain on high alert to thwart threats and exact a heavy price for anyone who seeks to harm us."
"Facing every threat, we will continue demonstrating our military might, strength the IDF has been maintained throughout the years, which is based primarily on the people in our service, their fighting spirit, the camaraderie, the loyalty to the country, and the mutual commitment to one another," Eisenkot added.
Among the 120 exemplary soldiers and officers are 75 men and 45 women; 101 are soldiers and 19 are officers; 71 are combat soldiers, 26 are combat support soldiers, and 23 have other roles. Among the excelling soldiers are 21 lone soldiers and five volunteers. 32 of the soldiers were not born in Israel, rather they made aliyah from Ethiopian, Russia, Ukraine, France, Colombia, Moldova, Brazil, the US, Belgium, Argentina, South Africa, Britain, Mexico and even Lebanon.
Earlier this week, during rehearsals for the ceremony, Rivlin visited with the soldiers, telling them, "You are the next generation of leaders in the State of Israel. You are our pride. Your parents are so proud of you, and rightly so. You are the pride of our country. The entire people of Israel look to you, and through you to the entire Israel Defense Force."
As the president shook the hands of the exemplary soldiers, he told them, "Our hearts are filled with pride as we read about each and every one of you, about the journey you took until getting recognition as an 'exemplary soldier.' You represent the IDF's soldiers, their motivation, the importance of their role in protecting the people and the homeland. Thank you for all you've done so far, thank you for all you'll do in the future. Today, we salute you!"
The ceremony was followed by a sing-along event with the top Israeli officials. The president, the prime minister, the defense minister and the IDF chief held a joint "interview," in which they spoke about the future, Israel's achievements, technology, and Israel as a security superpower. They shared with the audience their feelings about Israel's 70th Independence Day and recounted experiences from their military service.
President Rivlin recounted the most emotional days he had witnessed in Israeli history. "My generation saw on May 15 the most emotional day of their lives," he said of the day of Israel's founding. "As a Jerusalemite, one of the days that preceded this was November 29, that night the entire nation in Jerusalem was amazed from the UN Resolution about the right and the realization of that right to establish our state."
Prime Minister Netanyahu also highlighted two moments "of immense pride - the tremendous victory in the Six Day War, and of course the rescue in Entebbe, which for me was mixed of course with great pain," he said, referring to the death of his brother Yoni Netanyahu, who was killed in the daring operation to save Israelis whose flight was hijacked by terrorists.
"I feel pride for two other events that didn't go as well: The Yom Kippur War, when the army showed its greatness despite the difficulties and led to victory, and of course the War of Independence. This is an army like no other," Netanyahu said of the IDF.
The event featured the IDF Orchestra and army bands, members of Koolulam, a mass singing project, actor and singer Israel Gurion, singers Miri Mesika, Dudu Aharon, Hagit Yaso and Shay Hamber, as well as the VocaTikva Ensemble, among others, who performed Israeli hits from its 70 years history.
The sing-along event also featured a video by Koolulam, which had some 12,000 Israelis join Rivlin and singer Shlomi Shabat to sing Naomi Shemer's song "For All These Things."