Independence Day celebrations took off on Thursday morning with a ceremony recognizing 120 outstanding soldiers at the President's Residence in Jerusalem.
Also attending the annual event celebrating soldiers honored by President Reuven Rivlin were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.
Of the 120 soldiers honored, 77 are men, 43 are women, 17 are lone soldiers, nine volunteers, 19 officers and 66 combat soldiers.
"My State of Israel is like a little sister," Rivlin said. "I dreamt of her, awaited her, oh how we expected her. I was present at her birth and since then I've celebrated 68 enchanting and wonderful years with her."
Speaking of the outstanding soldiers, Eisenkot said that "They are 120 of our best sons and daughters. One hundred and twenty different stories bound together into one story – the story of the State of Israel."
"Today the people of Israel celebrate their 68-year-long victory in their struggle for a homeland and independence since its establishment and until today. The State of Israel knew how to develop and prosper when around it our detractors challenge our right to exist as a free nation in its country. In the steadfast struggle for this right, the soldiers and commanders of the IDF stand strong and determined to fulfill this defense mission," he said.
Later on Thursday , at 7:30 P.M., the Israel Prize ceremony will take place in Jerusalem. This year, the prize will be awarded to Rabbi Eli Sadan, Maj. Gen. (ret.) Doron Almog, Hadas Ofrat, Nurit Hirsch, Professors Aviatar Nevo and David Shulman, Yohanan Friedmann, Yossi Katz, Leslie Leiserowitz, Meir Lahav and Idit Doron.
Professor Shulman announced on Wednesday that he would donate his 75,000 shekel ($20,000) Israel Prize cash prize to Ta'ayush, an Israeli group that assists Palestinian residents of the South Hebron Hills.
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