Israelis celebrate Independence Day as anti-Semitism spikes around the world and Iran continues its quest for nuclear weapons

The Israeli Air Force crosses all of Israel from north to south, in honor of the country's 63rd Independence Day. (Photo: IDF/Wikimedia Commons)

Israel’s Independence Day, Yom Haatzmaut, begins with an emotional transition from the sullenness of Memorial Day, remembering Israel’s fallen soldiers, to a joyful celebration of freedom.

Independence Day begins at sundown immediately following Memorial Day. This year marks Israel’s 71st birthday since declaring statehood in 1948. In Israel, the day is celebrated according to the Hebrew calendar, on the fifth of the Hebrew month of Iyar. If 5 Iyar falls on a Friday or Saturday, as it does this year, then Independence Day is celebrated on the preceding Thursday. David Ben-Gurion publicly read the Israeli Declaration of Independence on Friday, May 14, 1948, so around the world, most nations recognize Israel’s Independence day as May 14.

The Independence Day celebrations begin with a state ceremony at Mount Herzl, Israel’s military cemetery. The country then erupts with events, parties, concerts and fireworks shows. The following day is famous for nationwide barbecues, al ha-esh (on the fire) and nary a spot in any park is unoccupied by an Israeli family picnicking and partying all day long.

The Israel Air Forces also regales the nation with flyovers of its fleet. F-15, F-16, F-16I and F-35 fighter jets, the Lavi training aircraft, C-130 and C-130J cargo planes, the Boeing refueling plane; Black Hawk, Sea Stallion, Panther and Apache helicopters were scheduled to take part in the flyby.

Prior to the festivities, fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism were honored in a ceremony following a two-minute siren nationwide in their memory at 11 a.m. on Wednesday. Immediately after the siren was sounded, the main national ceremony in the honor of the fallen began at the Israeli military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and Israel’s chief of police Motti Cohen were among the senior Israeli officials in attendance.

“We will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said during the ceremony.

Iran’s threats to annihilate Israel and its attempts to build nuclear weapons are considered one of the country’s most serious security threats. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani threatened to abandon his country’s commitments to scale back nuclear weapon production if world powers did not protect it from U.S. sanctions.

Israel was founded as a Jewish state and initially became a refuge for Jews fleeing the Holocaust. Today 45 percent of the world’s Jews live in Israel. But Iran’s threats, rising anti-Semitism around the world and attacks on Jews in Europe and America has made this year’s celebrations all the more poignant.

As it reaches its 71st birthday, Israel’s population has grown by 2 percent over last year. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics
as of May 2019, Israel’s population has for the first time surpassed 9 million people.

Israelis are proud to be, well, Israeli. Some 82 percent of Israelis are happy with country’s achievement and more than 80 percent of Israelis say the country’s achievements outweigh its failures.

According to William Cubbison, a researcher with IDI’s Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research, Israel’s outlook is optimistic now, but the future looks more grim.

“The past decade and a half has seen a significant rise in positive assessments of the country’s overall situation,” said Cubbison. “But, when looking ahead towards the future, Israelis are less optimistic: large gaps exist between Arab and Jewish Israelis and between Right and Left, both with regard to their pride in being Israeli, and on the future of the state.”