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Sombre mood accompanies Independence Day celebrations

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What’s happening: Muted celebrations are being held today to mark the 76th anniversary of Israel’s independence.

  • Last night’s annual torch-lighting ceremony was pre-recorded, for the first time ever. In recorded remarks, Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “This year’s Independence Day is not like any other year’s… The war is still raging. It was forced upon us on that dark day of the horrendous massacre. Many of our brothers and sisters are still being held in the dungeons of Hamas. Their families are suffering greatly. We will bring them all home, the living and the dead.”
  • “Although this is not a regular Independence Day, it is a special opportunity for us to realise the significance of our independence. Independence means being a free people in our country, having the freedom to defend ourselves by ourselves and the sovereignty to satisfy the behest of generations: never again!”
  • “We are doing all this together. Just like our courageous soldiers fight together, shoulder to shoulder, in tanks and armoured vehicles, in tunnels, in aircraft and navy vessels. At the moment of truth, the entire country took up arms. What an incredible generation we have, a generation of triumphant heroes.”
  • In a message to Jewish communities around the world, President Herzog also acknowledged that this year’s anniversary felt profoundly different. October 7th, he said, had “shaken the earth beneath our feet. But, my brothers and sisters, this is only part of the truth. We must recognise that these times of real loss have also been a time of important achievements. They have reminded us why we rose up from tragedy and found the strength and determination to establish a beautiful and beloved national home: the miracle that is the State of Israel.”
  • “They have reminded us, also, of our core qualities, of our power as a people to stand up, again and again, against hatred. To survive and speak our truth. Of our deep and sustaining caring for one another. Of our connection to the call that we have carried across the ages: To do good, to pursue peace, Tikum Olam and to repair our fractured world.”
  • At the annual ceremony held at the President’s Residence this morning, Herzog also recognised 120 “Outstanding Soldiers”.
  • Elsewhere, Torches were lit in Kfar Aza, Hof Zikim, Sderot, Nahal Oz, and other locations affected on October 7.
  • 100,000 Israelis attended a separate commemoration in Tel Aviv’s Hostage Square, standing vigil with hostages families.
  • A small alternative ceremony was also held in the central town of Binyamina, in which torches were extinguished, reversing the protocol in the traditional Independence Day celebrations.
  • Meanwhile, sirens sounded in northern Israel yesterday after two anti-tank missiles crossed from Lebanese territory into the area of Yiftah. Three IDF soldiers were lightly injured and one moderately injured.
  • The IDF struck several targets in southern Lebanon in response, including in Odaisseh, Khiam, and Kafr Kila.
  • In southern Israel, initial reports of sirens sounding in communities in the Gaza envelope proved to be a false alarm, while several launches identified from Gaza fell inside the Strip, with no Israeli injuries reported.
  • One UN employee was killed and another injured in Rafah yesterday. The IDF said that their vehicle’s route was unknown to Israel and that they were hit “amid fighting in an area defined as an active combat zone.”
  • Meanwhile, the Iranian-backed Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed responsibility for launching two UAVs at what they claimed to be a “military target in Eilat.” IDF fighter jets successfully intercepted them before they entered Israeli territory.

Context: This year’s celebrations are taking place in an atmosphere of subdued protest against the government. Commentators are suggesting that the decision to pre-record the Independence Day celebration was due to a wish to avoid government officials being heckled or challenged in public.

  • Earlier yesterday, at the official Memorial Day commemoration, Netanyahu was heckled with shouts of “You took my children” from several attendees, reportedly bereaved families.
  • Last week, Maariv’s latest polling reflected the continuing slump in popularity of Netanyahu’s Likud. The poll showed the Likud losing nearly half its current 32 Knesset seats, down to 17. Benny Gantz’s National Unity Party, meanwhile, is projected to win 32. The other projections were: Yesh Atid: 13; Yisrael Beiteinu: 11; Shas: 10; Jewish Power: 9; United Torah Judaism: 7; Hadash-Ta’al: 5; United Arab List: 4; Meretz: 4; Religious Zionist Party: 4; Labour Party: 4.
  • Overall, the current opposition is slated to win a majority 64 seats, with the current coalition on 47.
  • In projections of a different kind, Israel’s population is expected to top 10 million by next year’s Independence Day.
  • Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, as is traditional, noted that in its 76 years of independence, the country has grown from a population of 806,000 to over 9.9 million.
  • Of these, 7,247,000 identify as Jewish (73.2 percent), 2,089,000 as Arab (21.1 percent), and the remaining 5.7 percent classified as “others”.
  • As of the end of 2022, the report says, 45 percent of the world’s Jews live in Israel, with 80 percent of Israelis having been born in the country.
  • Last week, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq has claimed six attempted drone and cruise missile attacks on Israeli targets including the port city of Eilat, Israeli Air Force bases at Nevatim and Ovda, the Ashkelon oil terminal, a platform in the Leviathan offshore gas field, and the Ramon airport. None of these attacks caused damage or casualties

Looking ahead: Independence Day commemorations will continue throughout the day, with Herzog hosting a reception for foreign ambassadors and members of the international diplomatic corps later.