Hundreds of Thousands of Israelis Mark Independence Day at Country's Parks

Visitors pack Israel's Jewish National Fund and heritage sites, as official ceremonies mark the 63rd Independence Day celebrations.

Israelis eat their barbecue lunch at a national park in the southern city of Ashkelon during celebrations marking Israel's 63rd independence day on May 10, 2011.AFP

Parks and forests were packed with visitors, and roads were heavy with traffic on Tuesday, as hundreds of thousands of Israelis traveled the country to mark Israel's 63rd Independence Day celebrations.

Among the most popular sites for Israeli tourists were the Biria Forest in the north of the country, Canada Park in the center and the Lahav Forest in southern Israel, according to the Jewish National Fund, which published a list of the most visited sites.

Over twenty thousand people also visited national heritage sites. In some places, such as Atlit detainee camp near Haifa, visitor numbers were so high that the Society for Preservation of Heritage Sites advised the public not to visit them at all.

The Jewish National Fund prepared well in advance for this year's celebrations after last year saw 1,300,000 people visiting sites across Israel, leaving 450 tons of trash in their wake. This year, the Jewish National Fund asked the public to adhere to safety regulations and pick up after themselves.

On Tuesday morning, President Shimon Peres presented 120 soldiers with awards for excellence in service at his residence in Jerusalem. The ceremony was also attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israel Defense Forces chief Benny Gantz. Addressing the ceremony, the President said that the soldiers receiving the award, "warm the heart of the nation, and carry the torch of its future."

Israel Air Force planes marked the 63rd Independence Day with aerial demonstrations in various parts of the country. In the afternoon, Netanyahu attended the International Bible Contest, where 16 year old Shlomi Adelman, a yeshiva student from Nof Ayalon, won the contest. Ayalon will receive a scholarship to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.