Israel celebrates 68th birthday after solemn Memorial Day

2016-05-12 05:40
Israeli soldiers stand to attention during an official state Memorial Day ceremony at Mount Herzl Cemetery. (Heidi Levine, AP)

Israeli soldiers stand to attention during an official state Memorial Day ceremony at Mount Herzl Cemetery. (Heidi Levine, AP)

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Jerusalem - In a jarring contrast, Israel transitioned on Wednesday night from melancholic reflection to remember its fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism to joyous Independence Day festivities in celebration of 68 years since the modern Jewish state was formed.

The grouping of mournful Memorial Day with Independence Day celebrations is intentional, to show the link between the costly wars Israel has fought and the establishment and survival of the Jewish state.

At a ceremony marking the end of collective mourning and the start of the celebrations, 12 Israelis were given the honour of lighting 12 huge torches at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, Israel's national cemetery.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the nation in a short speech broadcast at the ceremony. "One of the fundamental requisites for independence is the willingness to fight for it, but that exacts a painful price - our fallen sons and daughters, brothers and sisters," Netanyahu said. "We owe them everything. We know that we cannot exist without a defence force, we cannot maintain our independence if we do not build up our strength."

At the ceremony, performers sang and danced, soldiers marched in formation, and fireworks lit up the sky. Israelis traditionally party long into the night and down town areas are packed with revellers.

Celebrations continue on Thursday, with traditional cook-outs, flybys by air force jets and other festivities.

The celebrations are in sharp contrast to the Memorial Day commemorations held during the day on Wednesday. A siren rang out at 11:00 as motorists pulled over to the sides of highways and roads and pedestrians stopped in their tracks. People stood with their heads bowed to remember and honour the fallen. Israelis attended remembrance ceremonies across the country. Radio and television networks broadcast programmes about battle and loss.

The commemorations came as Israel copes with an eight month-long wave of Palestinian violence that has killed 28 Israelis and two Americans. About 200 Palestinians have been killed in that time, most of them were attackers, according to the Israeli military.

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