More than 150,000 people packed into Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv on Tuesday for the Independence Day "Surprise Party for Israel," organized by Russian-born billionaire Arkady Gaydamak. Since the venue opened to the masses, who had been queuing since the early morning, the crowd enjoyed a string of activities, shows and concerts and feasted on food and beer paid for by the billionaire businessman. The party was set to continue until the early hours of Wednesday morning. Gaydamak himself however did not attend his party, choosing instead to spend the evening with his family. Earlier Tuesday, during a ceremony for outstanding IDF soldiers at Beit Hanassi, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that "Israel will doubtlessly face immense dangers in the next few years. However, the prime minister added, if "we're smart, we'll know how to create opportunities." Olmert said that a belief in the nation's future and the "great strength of its people" would counter any threat. Acting President Dalia Itzik took the podium after Olmert. During her speech, she stated that Israel was making every effort to secure the release of its captive soldiers.
Itzik: We have won, and will win again
Independence Day events at Beit Hanassi opened Tuesday morning with a parade of generations of IDF veterans. The participants posed for pictures with Itzik, who then - together with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi - reviewed an honor guard of the 120 outstanding soldiers.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Israelis were celebrating Independence Day at national parks and sites.
The country's forests were a particularly popular destination for hikes and picnics. The Jewish National Fund reported that by midmorning, most forests were at 80 percent of their visitors' capacity. According to Israel Radio, so many visitors had arrived at Malachim Forest near Kiryat Gat that police were diverting the public to alternate sites.
The National Park near Ashkelon was closed to vehicles by midmorning, although visitors could still enter by foot.