Marching soldiers formed the profile of Theodor Herzl and dancers twirled to a song of peace on Monday night as the country marked the abrupt transition from Remembrance Day solemnity to Independence Day festivities.
This year, the annual torch-lighting ceremony on the capital’s Mount Herzl marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of Herzl, the father of modern political Zionism.
But while the theme centered around Herzl’s oft-repeated statement “If you will it, it is no dream,” Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin focused on the reality rather than the ideal.
“Specifically at a time of cultural openness, we are witness today to a dangerous process of intensifying fortification of every group within its four walls,” he said.
“This fortification brings with it not only cultural or political polarization, but also fatal segregation in everyday life. For example, look at what Jerusalem has turned into in the last decade: separate neighborhoods, separate public transport, separate shopping centers for haredi and secular Jews, and for Arabs and Jews. Ghettos and more ghettos, separated by walls of alienation, not by walls of cement.”
Before lighting the first torch, Rivlin said that Jerusalem was a far cry from the vision for “the city that was bound together” – a reference to Psalm 122. Fear of the “other,” whether Arab or haredi, was “contrary to the very essence of Zionism,” he said.
Rivlin praised Herzl. “Israel’s salvation didn’t come from prophets or diplomats, but from those who had the courage to stop dreaming and to start fulfilling,” he said.
Also on Monday evening, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a recorded address to Diaspora communities in which he said that “Israel’s Independence Day celebrates a double miracle in the life of the Jewish people.
“The first miracle is the restoration of Jewish sovereignty. There is no other example that I know of in the history of nations in which a scattered people, practically left for dead, has been able to reassert its national life,” the prime minister said.
“The second miracle is what we’ve done since the establishment of the Jewish state. Israel is fast becoming a regional economic power and one of the world’s leading technological powers. All the powers of creativity and genius in the Jewish people are bursting forth in every area: in science, in technology, in medicine, in the arts,” Netanyahu continued. “This great burst of creativity promises a great future for the Jewish people and for all mankind.”
The “double miracle” of Israel’s existence, sovereignty and development was “a testament to the life-force of the Jewish people. It’s a testament to the deep wells of hope we carry inside us, and to the deep connection that we have both to our past and to our future,” the prime minister said.
He concluded by calling on world Jewry to “stand together” and “remain committed to our common destiny.”
Hours earlier, during a memorial ceremony for terror victims at the Mount Herzl cemetery, Netanyahu called on Hamas to release abducted soldier St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit, while blasting Iran for sponsoring Islamic terrorism.
“Terror is not a new phenomenon, it has been with us since the early days of Zionism,” he said. “The backing for terror today is given by Islamic extremist regimes, led by Iran, which have turned calls for Israel’s annihilation into a routine.”
Terrorist organizations “jeer at values and norms acceptable in the humane and enlightened world,” the prime minister said.
“It’s already been four years that they’ve held Schalit,” he continued. “We won’t stop acting to bring him home, and I say it here, to his captors and their leaders: Bring back Gilad Schalit.”
Netanyahu also spoke at the memorial ceremony for fallen soldiers, which began after the sirens sounded across the country at 11 on Monday morning. President Shimon Peres, Rivlin and Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch also attended, while Defense Minister Ehud Barak participated in a similar ceremony in Tel Aviv.
“Today, the entire nation embraced all the mothers and fathers,
brothers and sisters, sons and daughters and wives in bereavement, in a
loss that is too heavy to bear,” Netanyahu said. “Our comfort is to
continue in the paths of our dear ones, and fulfill their dreams.
“We are a nation that seeks peace and prays for peace. Our one hand is
outstretched toward peace – we all want peace – while the other holds
the sword of David to protect our nation against those who seek to harm
us,” he said.
Barak spoke at the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery in north Tel Aviv.
“We stand here, in front of this long row of tombstones, tangible
witnesses to the price you have paid in blood, dear families, for our
nation to live in its land,” the defense minister said.
“The struggle for the right ‘to be a free nation in our land,’” Barak
said, quoting the national anthem, “comes from choosing life despite
the price paid in blood for this choice.
“This is the fate of our generation; and building a model society
worthy of the sacrifice of the fallen is our generation’s mission and