Peres and Gantz with soldiers Independence Day 370.
(photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
As Israelis all over the country set up at national parks for the traditional Independence Day barbecue, the state planned to celebrate its 65th year Tuesday with a series of cultural events, as well as an aerial demonstration performed by IAF planes.
At the President's Residence, President Shimon Peres and Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz honored 120 outstanding soldiers and officers, after IAF helicopters conducted an honorary flyover. The soldiers were selected for meaningful service and extraordinary contribution to the IDF and the State of Israel.
"The real Iron Dome is this wonderful group [of soldiers] that is here today at the President's Residence. This group represents the leading doers, the elite," Gantz told the soldiers and their parents gathered at the President's Residence.
President Peres praised the soldiers as well, saying "you are Israel's army of peace! Without you, Israel would not have been safe. With you, Israel will know peace."
Despite his optimism, the president cautioned against outside dangers coming "from a crazy Iranian regime and its proxies; Hezbollah, that turned a religious movement into an arsenal of rockets, and Hamas, that turned an overcrowded strip of land to a barrel of explosives."
The President's Residence then hosted the "Singing Independence" concert attended by Israel's top political and army officials, who performed duets with leading Israeli singers.
President Peres performed the song HaLevai (If Only) with singer Keren Peles, a song he chose because "it has a lot of hope". Meanwhile, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu performed a rendition of the song Tefila (Prayer) with Idan Amadi. Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon duetted with Hagit Yasso, while Gantz sang LeAhad HaHayalim (For One of the Soldiers) with Sharon Kidushin.
The president is expected to give a speech to foreign diplomats in Israel later Tuesday.
Despite the cloudy weather, almost one million Israelis made their way to the country's national parks and forests for the traditional Independence Day barbecue. Overcrowding was reported in several national park sites. KKL held guided tours for families in KKL forests during the day.
The IDF opened ten army bases for the public during the day Tuesday, as well as the IAF museum in Hatzerim. The museum and two of the IAF bases were closed to visitors after reaching full capacity.
The Atlit detainee camp, the Bank of Israel museum and the Jerusalem Menachem Begin Heritage Center were also closed due to full capacity of visitors.
The Israel Air Force performed an aerial demonstration over Israeli sky. Fighter jets, cargo aircrafts and army helicopters flew over Israel's coastline in a display that lasted an hour and a half.
The 50th International Bible Contest, where young Jewish men and women from all over the world demonstrated their vast accumulated knowledge of the Biblical text, crowned two winners, Ishai Eizenberg from New Jersey and Alior Babian from Beit Shemesh.
Prime Minister Netanyahu congratulated the winners, saying it a very suspenseful contest. "It makes me very happy to see young people from Israel and from the world that are so interested in our Book of Books," he said.
Israel Radio opened its Tel Aviv Kirya compound for a special Independence Day concert in which Ariel Zilber, Miri Aloni and the Boom-Pam group were set to perform.
On Tuesday evening, the prestigious Israel Prize will be awarded to extraordinary Israeli individuals.
Celebrations kicked off on Monday night with the traditional torch-lighting ceremony at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl, followed by fireworks and performances on stages all across the country.