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.
The official ceremony was marred by the fateful accident at the site last week, in which 20-year-old Israel Defense Forces soldier, 2nd Lt. Hila Bezaleli, was killed when a lighting rig collapsed during rehearsals for the Independence Day ceremony. Bezaleli's family were present at the ceremony on Wednesday.
Israel marks Independence Day 2012
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin lit the first torch in the ceremony with Bezaleli's parents, Sigalit and Yaron Bezaleli. The theme of the 2012 ceremony was "Water as a source of life."
In his opening address, Rivlin recalled Bezaleli, and said that she symbolized the good in Israel.
Rivlin went on to mention 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.
Rivlin also recalled the public debates over the exclusion of women from the public sphere that have taken place over the past year, and invited all sectors of Israeli society - Arabs, Jews, relgious, and secular - to work together for Israel's future.
Israelis bear the responsibility for the success and future of the country, he said.
Israel declared statehood on May 14, 1948, a day before the expiry of Britain's United Nations-mandate over historic Palestine. It traditionally celebrates Independence Day according to the Jewish calendar.
According to figures published by the Central Bureau of Statistics on the eve of Israel's 64th Independence Day on Tuesday, the country's population stood at 7.881 million. At its establishment, the population of Israel was 806,000.
Earlier on Wednesday, at 11 A.M., a two-minute siren sounded throughout the country to mark Memorial Day, followed by ceremonies at Israel's 43 military cemeteries.
On Thursday, Independence Day, Defense Ministry museums and military bases will be open to the public, and the Israeli air force will conduct flyovers over cities and other sites across the country.
The annual international Bible competition will be held in Jerusalem on Thursday, and the Israel Prize ceremony will be held in the capital in the evening.
Israelis are expected to throng to the country's national parks to celebrate on Thursday.
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