Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at Israel's official Independence Day ceremony Wednesday evening, marking the end of Memorial Day and the beginning of the celebrations of Israel's 70th year, and praised the country as a beacon of light. Meanwhile, President Rivlin took the opportunity to thank the U.S. for recognizing Jerusalem.
"All other nations who have faced exile have fallen apart – but only the Jewish people refused to disappear and to integrate and never gave up the dream of returning to Zion," Netanyahu said.
Using the metaphor of the menorah, the main symbol on Israel's emblem, Netanyahu said that there are those today who still wish "to extinguish our menorah's light."
He vowed that Israel will defend itself in the face of those wishing to destroy it, saying "independence is being able to defend ourselves... I salute you," Netanyahu said to Israeli soldiers.
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Netanyahu said Israel is a home to a diverse community of Jews, but also Muslims. He also thanked U.S. President Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
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U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted in support of the State of Israel on Wednesday, celebrating 70 years of the Jewish state.
"Best wishes to Prime Minister @Netanyahu and all of the people of Israel on the 70th Anniversary of your Great Independence. We have no better friends anywhere. Looking forward to moving our Embassy to Jerusalem next month!," the tweet said.
President Reuven Rivlin also praised the country, saying "we must remember how lucky we are to be the generation that returned to Zion. The generation that saw Jerusalem rebuilt. This year, our greatest ally, the U.S., recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital. We are certain that more and more nations will recognize Jerusalem as well and join the U.S.," he said
The Israel Central Bureau of Statistics released population data ahead of Israel’s 70th Independence Day saying that 8,842,000 people live in Israel and in the settlements in the West Bank.
According to the data, 6,589,000 (74.5%) are Jews, 1,849,000 (20.9%) are Arabs and 404,000 (4.6%) non-Arab Christians, a number that includes those of other religions or not belonging to any religious denomination. Additionally, there are 169,000 people in Israel who are neither citizens nor permanent residents.
Netanyahu issued a veiled warning to Iran, saying his country will defend itself against anyone that tries to harm it. The premier's remarks at a Memorial Day ceremony on Wednesday come amid rising tensions between Israel and Iran over an alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria last week that left at least four Iranian military personnel dead.
On Wednesday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called for "offensive plans against the enemy," without specifically naming Israel.
Netanyahu says Israel will stand firm against "continued incitement by our neighbors, a great many of whom refuse to come to terms with our existence," and cautions that "anyone who raises a hand against us won't be spared."
Netanyahu's remarks were delivered just hours before Israel celebrates its 70th anniversary.
Israelis came to a two-minute standstill on Wednesday to remember fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism as the country marks Memorial Day, one of the most somber days on its calendar. Motorists pulled over on the sides of highways and roads, and pedestrians stopped in their tracks as a siren rang out at 11 a.m. A minute of silence was similarly observed on Tuesday evening.
Many Israelis visited cemeteries and attended remembrance ceremonies in wake of Memorial day, while radio and television networks broadcasted programs about battle and loss.
The melancholic atmosphere ends abruptly at sundown as Israel's 70th Independence Day celebrations begin.