Israel kicked off celebrations for its 63rd anniversary Monday evening with the traditional torch-lighting ceremony at the Mount Herzl national cemetery in Jerusalem, which also marks the conclusion of Memorial Day. Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948, but celebrates its birthday each year in accordance with the Jewish calendar, on the fifth of Iyar.
According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel’s population currently stands at 7,746,000 people, a 2% increase since last year around the same time. That number can also be compared to the night of Israel’s establishment, in which the country was home to only 806,000 residents. Of today’s population, 75.3% are Jewish and 20.5% are Arab.
Israelis celebrate Independence Day.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who lit the first torch during Monday night’s ceremony, said in his speech: “Israel of 2011 is a Jewish and democratic state, which shines proudly in the heart of an oppressive and cruel Middle East…. This is a society in which Jews and Arabs, haredim and seculars, settlers and leftists, all share the same fate. In such a reality, the existence of a steadfast and functioning democratic society is an achievement, the greatness of which cannot be denied. It’s a wonder which has no precedent. And for that, my brothers and sisters, our heart is filled with pride today.”
Indeed, as Israelis celebrate 63 years of existence with trips to parks and national heritage sites, many of their neighbors across the Middle East are in turmoil. Denied the rights afforded in democratic states such as Israel, the people of these countries have risen up against their rulers, demanding freedom and change (and with tools originally created in Israel, such as cell phone technology). While the degree of change that these countries will witness is so far unknown, Israel, with its mixed population and equal rights, stands as a great achievement in the restless and oppressive Middle East.