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Israel Marks 68th Independence Day with Countrywide Festivities

A day after memorializing fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism, Israelis marked the 68th anniversary of the founding of the modern Jewish state with countrywide festivities on Thursday.

Yom Ha’atzmaut, or Independence Day, commemorates the Israeli declaration of independence on May 14, 1948, following the British withdrawal from Mandatory Palestine. The nascent Jewish state was immediately recognized by U.S. President Harry S. Truman.

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs summarized:

Independence Day is a celebration of the renewal of the Jewish state in the Land of Israel, the birthplace of the Jewish people. In this land, the Jewish people began to develop its distinctive religion and culture some 4,000 years ago, and here it has preserved an unbroken physical presence, for centuries as a sovereign state, at other times under foreign domination. Throughout their long history, the yearning to return to the land has been the focus of Jewish life. Theodor Herzl​, the leader and founder of the Zionist movement, increased international recognition for the need of a Jewish state.

In his Independence Day message, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin recalled witnessing the birth of the state as a 9-year-old child, and seeing the Israeli flag flying “as the flag of a free and sovereign nation” for the first time.

“As Israel turns 68, we can look with pride, at our past, and must look to the future with hope. The State of Israel was born out of a hope of 2,000 years. It was born with the bravery of dreamers who worked to turn their dream into reality,” Rivlin added.

In his own Independence Day message, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed pride in the citizens of Israel:

World leaders come to Jerusalem every day. They say to me in wonder: ‘You have such a great country. It is a vibrant, entrepreneurial country, creative spiritually and materially’ They see the roads, the construction, our technology, economy, society, art. Above all, they see you, the citizens of Israel, and your great skills and entrepreneurship, your sense of mutual accountability, the way you unify in times of trouble.

I am proud to be your prime minister; I am proud of you; and we are all proud of our country.

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a number of figures that illustrate how far the state has progressed in 68 years. Its population has grown more than tenfold to 8,522,000 from just 806,000 at the time of its founding. Of the population, 74.8% is Jewish and 20.8% is Arab. Over 75% are native born Israelis and more than half are second-generation.

While in 1948, the only Israeli city with a population over 100,000 was Tel Aviv-Jaffa, there are currently 14 Israeli cities with a population that large, as well as six cities – Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Haifa, Rishon Lezion, Ashdod, and Petah Tikva – with a population over 200,000.

The Jerusalem Post released a poll on Wednesday capturing the attitudes of Israelis as the state approached its 68th birthday. Overall, the survey’s findings were upbeat, with 84% proud to be Israeli, 76% saying Israel is a good place to live, 73% saying Israel is secure, and 69% saying they had no plans to emigrate.

When asked what made them want to stay in Israel, 39% of the respondents said family; history and the bible were next at 21%. Among secular Israelis, 58% said that family was the main reason they would stay, while 74% of Haredi Jews said the bible is what motivated them to stay.

Most Israelis, 64%, also said that they do not fear boycotts or diplomatic isolation.

Despite this, 63% of those polled believe that Israel will face another war in the short term, while 54% do not think that Israel’s security situation will improve in the next decade.

Politicians also rated poorly in the poll, with most scoring about 4.4 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being terrible and 10 being excellent. Netanyahu scored 4.7, although he received higher marks from the national-religious and Haredi populations.

When asked which politician they would most like to have a beer or lunch with, 12% chose former president Shimon Peres. Netanyahu and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid came in second place at 10%.

The ministry also provided a video illustrating 68 facts about Israel on the celebration of its 68th anniversary.

[Photo: Yonatan Sindel / Flash90 ]