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600,000 Cheer Israel’s Independence Day Military Parade in Jerusalem

An estimated 600,000 persons — about one-fourth of the country’s population – watched Israel’s 20th anniversary Independence Day parade wind through the streets of a united Jerusalem under brilliant skies this morning while units of Israel’s air force put on a spectacular display of power and acrobatic skill overhead. The parade had become the subject of international controversy in recent weeks. A bitter complaint by Jordan, supported by the other Arab states, resulted in a Security Council resolution demanding that Israel cancel it. Similar advice came from many quarters abroad, including some friendly to Israel. And there was a large body of opinion at home that questioned the wisdom of a display of military might in a city so recently unified. But the parade went off without incident. Dire threats of terrorist strikes and sabotage failed to materialize. Israeli forces nonetheless took elaborate security precautions. The entire parade route was guarded by armed troops stationed on roof tops and patrolled by helicopters.

Apart from several cases of heat prostration, the only untoward incident was the breakdown of a giant Stalin tank, part of the booty captured from Egypt in last June’s war, which caught fire from an overheated engine and had to be towed away. But despite the parade’s success and its wildly enthusiastic reception by the crowds, it may well be Israel’s last. High Government and military officials are seriously considering abolishing the annual event. Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Chaim Bar-Lev is on record as having given the matter some thought. The question has been raised in the Knesset (Parliament) and newspapers have asked editorially whether military parades are not a relic of the past, held mainly in Communist countries and military dictatorships.

Whether or not today’s parade turns out to be the last, it will probably go on record as the biggest, most colorful and spectacular of its kind in Israel’s history. The reviewing stand was set up on Mivtar Hill, in East Jerusalem, a spot of no ordinary significance to Israelis. It overlooks the route by which the Jordan Arab Legion entered the Old City in 1948 and by which an Israeli armored brigade recaptured it in June, 1967.

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President Zalman Shazar, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan occupied the stand. Maj. Gen. Dayan, wearing the uniform of his rank, stood when the President arrived and the national anthem was played. But he remained seated for the rest of the parade, apparently owing to the injuries he received in an archaeological cave-in six weeks ago. Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Bar-Lev took the salute of passing troops in his stead. The white mane of former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion was missing from the reviewing stand for the first time in 20 years. The 82-year-old leader attended the parade but had expressed his desire to sit in the public stands. Missing, too, were the Ambassadors and other diplomats whose countries do not recognize Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital. But foreign military attaches who are considered to be non-political, were out in force. The chiefs of staff of the armies of Ecuador, Uganda and Malagasay Republic occupied the VIP stands as guests of Israel’s Chief of Staff. Leaders of Israel’s Moslem and Christian communities were also present on the reviewing stand, though none from the West Bank or East Jerusalem.

East Jerusalem’s Arab population had been warned. In leaflets that apparently originated in Amman, to stay indoors during the parade, Arab windows were shuttered. But as the parade continued, Arabs in white headgear or in pajamas could be seen watching from balconies or from behind shrubbery in their gardens.

Militarily, the parade was a convincing display of Israel’s armed prowess. A contingent from the armored brigade that recaptured East Jerusalem last June led the column of captured Arab equipment which included huge Stalin-Ill tanks and Soviet-made two-stage SA-2 ground-to-air missiles, all captured in the Sinai. But the strongest impression was made by the American “Long Tom” cannon captured from Jordan. It was that long-range artillery piece, bystanders noted, that shelled Tel Aviv last June from behind the now defunct armistice line. Most of the captured equipment was no novelty to the Israelis as it had been displayed and photographed many times. But there was novelty in seeing Israel’s smart stepping women’s army units carrying sub-machine guns. In past parades they had been permitted to carry only communications equipment.

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Throughout most of the parade, it was impossible to talk or even hear the cheers for the deafening roar of tanks, armored half-tracks and other military vehicles which created clouds of dust as they rolled past. But heads were most often turned sky wards where low-flying jets put on some aerial fireworks. On display for the first time were eight American A-4 Sky hawk fighter-bombers as well as French Mirages, Mysteres and super-Mysteres and a lone MIG-21 that was landed intact in Israel by a defecting Iraqi pilot in 1966. The planes spurted streamers of blue and white smoke – Israel’s national colors. They flew in precise formation in the form of a six-pointed Star of David, scrambled and reassembled to form the numeral 20.

Considering the throngs that jammed into Jerusalem for the parade, the traffic problem was fairly well-handled. Police estimated that some 30,000 vehicles entered the city last night, 50 percent more than had been expected. But police were ready. Most streets were made one-way for the day – inbound. Drivers who had pre-arranged parking spaces averaged about 90 minutes getting from the outskirts of the city to the car parks. The worst traffic Jams occurred after the parade when street directions were reversed and the mass of vehicles attempted almost simultaneously to leave the city. What is normally a 20-minute drive took the better part of three hours.

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