Those threatening Israel would do best not to repeat the mistakes of past enemies, President Shimon Peres said on Thursday, in a event honoring outstanding Israel Defense Forces soldiers held every year on Independence Day.

Thousands of Israelis celebrated Israel's 64th Independence Day with family picnics and hikes.

The Society for the Protections of Nature in Israel and the Jewish National Fund estimated that around 1.5 million people are expected to visit the various national parks, forests, and nature reserves across the country.

Celebrations of 64 years of Israeli independence kicked off on Wednesday night with the lighting of beacons at the official ceremony at Mount Herzl national cemetery in Jerusalem, which also marks the conclusion of Memorial Day.

In his opening address, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin mentioned the protests against the high cost of living that swept Israel last summer, saying that the past year had revealed an Israel "that cares more."

"We've seen a glimpse of a bright Israeli future," he said.

Meanwhile, the lawn of the UN Headquarters on the bank of New York’s East River in New York City was decorated in blue and white, and a special pavilion was erected to celebrate Israeli Independence Day on Wednesday night with Israeli music, wine, and an Israeli-style dinner.

The main attraction of the event was Israel’s UN ambassador Ron Prosor’s surprise performance of the well-known Beatles song, “When I’m 64.”  

“Israel is an extraordinary success story on any scale, being a small country that has had such an amazing historical journey, and sits today on the cutting edge of science and technology. We all have a reason to celebrate – so drink L’chaim,” said Prosor.

On Thursday, Peres, Gantz, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended the annual ceremony naming 120 IDF soldiers and officers that have excelled in their duties at the President's Residence in Jerusalem.

In his speech, Peres congratulated the soldiers, saying that "the people of Israel have 120 new hopes. Each generation has excelled over that which came before."

Referring to security threats Israel faces, Peres said: "To those who are now threatening Israel I say: Don't repeat the mistakes of your predecessors."

"You threaten out of a hunger for conquest. We defend out of an aspiration for peace. That wars, which Israel did not initiate, brought it unexpected gains, causing the aggressors unexpected losses," he added.

Later in the day, the International Bible Contest commenced, participated by Jewish youth from around the world, and participated by Rivlin, Netanyahu, and Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar.

Speaking at the event, Sa'ar referred to a recent decision by a ministerial panel, headed by Netanyahu, to sanction three West Bank outposts as official settlements, saying that "the prime minister gave 1,200 people and the people of Israel a holiday gift – the recognition of Bruchin, Sansana, and Rechalim."

"From this spot, we'll send our recognition to the prime minister. Because the Jewish settlement in the land of Israel is the realization of a right, a return to the right of our forefathers, on which will be intertwined with the Israeli people's right for national security," Sa'ar said.

 

At  14:50 Thursday, Israel Air Force jets, helicopters, and transport craft flew over Be'er Sheva, Yeruham, Dimona, Arad, kiryat Gat, Jerusalem, Beit She'an, Afula, Nazareth, Tiberias, Katzrin, Safed, Karmiel, Nahariya, Haifa, Caesarea, Netanya, Tel Aviv, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Sderot, Ofakim, and Hatzerim.