One of the highlights of Independence Day for many Israelis is the annual Israel Air Force flyover. The synchronized dance in the sky with its colored plumage and majestic choreography is a much-looked forward to tradition that symbolizes the sovereign Jewish state capable of defending itself against any threat.
Families run out to their porches, and gather in yards and in the street and along the Tel Aviv beachfront as the roar of the fighter jets, the refuelers, transport planes, helicopters and reconnaissance jets approach and disappear in seconds.
The anticipation of the flyover is always exceeded by the actual sight of the flyover, eliciting oohs and aahs and a sense of pride in the country and those who guard its on land, in the sky and on the seas 24/7 all year round.
The flyovers cover a vast area – from the far North to the deep South – in an attempt to enable the largest number of Israelis to catch a view of the procession.
The disclosure that this year’s 74th Independence Day flyover will include Hebron and nearby Kiryat Arba should therefore come as no surprise, nor should it elicit any objections.
While past flyovers have included a number of settlements, the small Jewish community that is home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs has never been part of the event.
Within the West Bank, the route will fly over the northern Dead Sea and the Gush Etzion region as well as Moshav Hamra in the Jordan Valley, Ma’aleh Adumim and Har Adar.
Those locations, including the Jewish enclave in Hebron, are recognized by the current government as well as every Israeli government since 1967 as Israeli territory with Israeli citizens living there. Whatever their future status in a theoretical negotiated agreement with the Palestinians, the reality on the ground is the same as the reality in the air – it’s Israel.
However, the route has rankled some who don’t see it that way.
Meretz MK Mossi Raz said the flyover should not include any settlements, explaining that the planes should not pass over the “heads of millions of [Palestinian] residents living under occupation.”
Peace Now joined the criticism, adding that holding the flyover outside of Israel’s sovereign territory was illogical and disgraceful.
“It gives legitimacy to settlements established in violation of international law and not part of Israel,” the group stated.
Pushing back on the other side, Hebron Jewish community spokesperson Yishai Fleisher said on Sunday that “the flyover of the Independence Day aircraft is a symbol of the heart of Israeli independence. There is nothing more normal and more beautiful than those airplanes flying over the very essence and root of the Jewish peoplehood which is the tomb of the forefathers and foremothers in Hebron.”
The Yesha Council also welcomed the IAF’s decision to fly over the “ancestral city of Hebron, which is the cradle of the existence of the Jewish people. It is a just and worthy decision that emphasizes the right – and the source of our pride – as a country after 2,000 years of exile.”
This national tradition – perhaps called militaristic by some on the Left, but generally accepted and embraced as a welcome and integral part of the Independence Day celebrations – has suddenly turned political.
The military related to the controversy on Monday, releasing a statement saying that: “The IDF is a state body, and any attempt to assign a political statement or message to the flyover route is devoid of any basis.
“In previous years, the flyover passed over areas in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley, as well as other areas in the State of Israel, from [Kibbutz] Dan to Eilat,” the IDF said. “Flight routes change from time to time, with the planes scheduled to overfly localities with more than 30,000 residents in order to pass over as many of the country’s citizens as possible. This year’s flyover will pass over the southern Hebron hills, on the shortest flight path from Hatzerim base to Jerusalem.”
Protesting the flyover including Hebron or any other Israeli-controlled area in the West Bank, just as celebrating it as a recognition of legitimacy, is cheapening and sullying the long-standing tradition of the military representing all Israelis, no matter their political affiliation or their geographical location.
Some things – like the annual IAF flyover – should be miles above politics.