'On Its 63rd Birthday, Israel Is a Shining Beacon in the Middle East'

Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin kicks off 63rd Independence Day ceremony in Jerusalem; the theme of this year's ceremony is 'Looking after one another – the year of mutual care.'

Israeli flag
Israeli flag Daniel Bar-On

Independence Day celebrations kicked off Monday night in Israel 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 theme of this year's ceremony, for Israel's 63rd Independence Day, is "Looking after one another – the year of mutual care."

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin opened the ceremony with a political speech, calling on Israelis to forget the dream of a melting pot, and come to terms with the fact that Israelis will never be united as a people in their opinions, but they all share a joint destiny.

Rivlin also spoke about the uprising in the Arab world, in Syria, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, saying "although the destabilization has raised the fear of a new, extremist Middle East, we must recognize the courage of those fighting for their freedom."

"Brother and sisters, our heart is filled with pride today for what we have managed to build here with sweat and hard work," Rivlin said, adding "we must not belittle what we have achieved. Israel of 2011 is a Jewish democratic state, a shining beacon in the heart of the oppressing and cruel Middle East."

He added that the last year of continuing boycotts against Israel and Israelis must end, and no Israeli, from the right or the left, should be boycotted for being Israeli.

Among the torch lighters this are Orit Dror, a member of Kibbutz Lavi who, together with her husband, donated her son's organs after he died of a terminal illness, and saved the life of a 13-year-old girl; Zehava Dankner (mother of businessman Nochi Dankner), a philanthropist who supported, among others, residents surrounding Gaza, and who is involved in matters of education, security and health; Barbra Goldstein, a representative of Hadassah, the women's Zionist organization of America, which is marking its 100th anniversary this year; Yovi Tsuma, a social activist who participates in a group of young Ethipian volunteers who help members of the immigrant community who have encountered difficulties in absorption; and Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg, a member of the Chabad movement, who lost his daughter and son in law in the November 2008 terrorist attack at the Chabad house in Mumbai.

The Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs pointed out that each of the chosen beacon lighters represent the central theme of this year's ceremony.

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, which this year falls almost a week before May 14.

Earlier in the day, at 11 A.M., a two-minute siren sounded throughout the country to mark Memorial Day, followed by ceremonies at Israel's 44 military cemeteries.

On Tuesday, Independence Day, Defense Ministry museums and military bases will be open from 9 A.M. to 4 P.M. The Israeli air force will conduct flyovers over cities and other sites across the country. A naval demonstration will be held off the coast.

On Tuesday evening, the Israel Prize ceremony will be held in the capital.

During the day Tuesday, Israelis are expected to throng to the country's national parks.

The theme of last year's ceremony, for Israel's 62nd Independence Day, was Herzl's adage "If you will it, it is not a dream."