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With subdued state ceremony, Israel begins marking a somber 76th Independence Day


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The Times of Israel

Torch-lighting pre-recorded for first time since COVID, amid reports government organizers wanted to avoid heckling of Netanyahu, other ministers as seen at Memorial Day events
Sam Sokol
May 14 2024

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Israel's Annual Independence Day ceremony begins at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, May 13, 2024. The ceremony was prerecorded this year, without a live audience. (Video screenshot)

Israel’s annual state torch-lighting ceremony aired Monday night in a radically atypical format, as the country began marking a bleak 76th Independence Day, the first since Hamas’s October 7 terror massacre in southern Israel.

The event was pre-recorded, with the only previous such instance being during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Save for a separately recorded message from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an energetic and stirring address screened over historical footage and with patriotic music that fit awkwardly into the flow of the ceremony, the tone throughout was somber — a stark contrast to normal years, where crowds of hundreds of flag-waving Israelis would attend the celebration on Mount Herzl, with exuberant dancing, presentations and fireworks.

The event is typically broadcast live, but government organizers filmed it ahead of time this year, ostensibly because of security concerns but amid speculation that they wanted to avoid the heckling of ministers, including of Netanyahu, such as that seen at Memorial Day ceremonies hours before. Until recently, the prime minister had not generally addressed the state ceremony at all, since it was traditionally seen as an apolitical event marking the transition from Memorial Day to Independence Day and presided over by the Knesset speaker.

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May 14 1948

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Netanyahu’s address

In his pre-recorded video, Netanyahu used the opportunity to reiterate many of his wartime talking points about his determination to defeat Hamas.

While Israel might stand alone, as it did in the 1948 Independence War, its people have a secret weapon, “the spirit of an ancient people who refuse to die.”

“Thanks to this spirit, we defeated our enemies and secured our existence. Today we are infinitely stronger,” Netanyahu said in a clip set to upbeat music and featuring a montage of footage from Israeli history, including the Gaza war, along with shots of himself and his wife Sara. (The prime minister’s office also posted his speech with English subtitles and without the footage and music.)

“This is not a normal Independence Day. The war is still in progress,” he said, before pledging to return the hostages to their families and ensure that the tens of thousands of Israelis who were forced to evacuate their homes along the northern and the southern borders will be able to return as well.

 

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