Prime Minister Benjmain Netanyahu and Knesset Speker Benny Gantz called for unity among Israelis, speaking on Tuesday at the traditional torch-lighting ceremony at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl marking the start of Israel's 72nd Independence Day.
Due to coronavirus restrictions, the event was pre-recorded rather than held in front of an audience and televised live.
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The official ceremony, under the slogan "Connections in Israeli Society," marks the transition from the national Memorial Day, commemorating fallen Israeli soldiers and victims of terror attacks, to Independence Day.
Netanyahu said in a video message: "It is time for unity. If we join forces we can overcome the coronavirus." According to Netanyahu, Israelis have successfully dealt with the outbreak and maintained social distancing: "We all realized that in the era of the coronavirus, love is from afar… The pandemic is still here, and we still need to follow regulations to save each other."
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Gantz, who last week signed a unity government deal with Netanyahu, also spoke about the coronavirus crisis: "We are going through difficult times, and we must prepare for even harder times. We will win this war, and form a new ethos, a story of solidarity; a story that would not be defined by strangers or enemies, but by ourselves. This should be our main mission in the national leadership."
Speaking of the fallen soldiers buried at Mount Herzl, Gantz said: "Nothing separates them – not where they were born, not their sexual identity and not their political stance. Under the deafening silence of death, they are all equal here. We have the responsibility to ensure we are all equal in life, too."
He called for a society "where we, the leaders, take responsibility, act for you, citizens of the state, worry for the nation's unity and maintain democracy and individual rights."
The torches were lit by renowned comedian and actor Tzipi Shavit; Adi Altschuler, who founded a youth movement for children with special needs and an initiative for Holocaust survivors to share their stories; Reina Abitbul, representing volunteers in Israeli hospitals and medical services; Israel Almasi, who founded a nationwide volunteer group; nurses Ahmed Balawneh and Yael Vilozni-Azulay; Eli Ben Shem, chairman of the Yad Labanim organization commemorating fallen soldiers and assisting bereaved families; Uri Cohen, founder of the Masa Israeli educational program; Lori Palatnik, an Orthodox Jewish outreach educator and founding director of the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, and Prof. Galia Rahav, the Head of the Infectious Disease Unit and Laboratories at the Sheba Medical Center, who was part of establishing the hospital's coronavirus ward.
Chabad, the Jewish Orthodox outreach movement, has forbidden its envoy (“shaliach”) to Nepal from participating in the ceremony. Chani Lifshitz, who runs the Chabad house in Kathmandu, was chosen to light one of the 12 torches, but said last week she would not participate.
Israel has imposed a closure, starting Tuesday at 5 P.M. until Wednesday at 8 P.M. Israelis will be allowed to leave their homes only to purchase medical and other essential supplies.
People celebrating Independence Day must do so at home. Buying food during Independence Day eve on Tuesday evening and the holiday itself, until Wednesday at 8 P.M., will be forbidden. Food delivery services are allowed to operate during that time.
Israelis will be allowed to exercise and leave the house to "get some air" in the vicinity of their home, similar to the regulation announced on Passover seder.
Public transportation will also be suspended until the end of Independence Day.
Those requiring essential services will be allowed to leave their homes, but must stay within their communities, unless those essential services are not provided there.
The government barred bereaved families from visiting military cemeteries on Tuesday to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, a decision that sparked some public criticism due to the sensitivity of Memorial Day in Israeli society.
Several families still arrived at military cemeteries, defying the ban on gatherings. Roadblocks were set on main roads leading to the military cemeteries, but the police didn’t prevent people from entering the cemeteries, making do with asking the public to leave the area.