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Chilly Weather is No Impediment to Independence Day Celebration

Israelis celebrated Independence Day this week with the usual barbecues, hikes, political speeches, military ceremonies and air force sky shows.

President Chaim Herzog ushered in the national holiday Sunday evening atop Mount Herzl, marking the transition from the solemn Yom Hazikaron, a Memorial Day in honor of the nation’s fallen defenders, to the festive Yom Ha’atzmaut, or Independence Day, always held a day later.

Herzog said the nation is facing a “difficult security challenge” that endangers both personal safety and the peace process.

But, he added, “We must not stray from our faith in peace and the drive toward its attainment, despite all difficulties.”

He said it is critical that democracy be preserved within the “national dispute over peace and security.”

The mood was lighter Monday, as Israelis flocked to the beaches and mountains, or instead watched events on television during an unusually cool day in many parts of the country.

As always, most of the fervently Orthodox community shunned any celebration of the secular holiday.

The navy and air force put on a combined air and sea show off the coast of Tel Aviv, and along the shore from Ashkelon in the south to Nahariya in the north. Planes continued the show over Tiberias, Jerusalem and Beersheba.

Army and police force training bases and equipment centers were open to the public throughout the country during the day, while the Jewish National Fund and the Nature Preservation Association had prepared hundreds of picnic and barbecue areas to cope with the hundreds of thousands of vacationers expected.

SETTLERS HIKE THROUGH GAZA STRIP

Right-wing politicians and members of the Gush Emunim settlers movement staged a mass hike through the Gush Katif region of the Gaza Strip during the day, to protest reported plans to grant autonomy to Palestinians there.

In Jerusalem, despite cool and sometimes drizzly weather, parks were filled with people enjoying what has become the holiday’s national symbol: the barbecue.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a former army chief of staff, and President-elect Ezer Weizman, a former air force commander, attended a military ceremony in the capital to decorate soldiers for distinguished service.

The Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak, said that the determination of Israel’s enemies to increase their military strength has forced Israel to sharpen its qualitative edge.

But in the ultra-religious Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim, black flags were hung and wall posters warned local residents not to take part in the celebrations of the secular Jews.

The holiday is rejected by some haredi, or fervently Orthodox, factions that regard the establishment of the State of Israel as heresy. The newspaper of the Eda Haredit came out with a banner headline framed with black, reading: “Haredi Judaism Mourns 45 Years of Rebellion Against the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Security around the country was high for the holiday. In the incident of Arab violence reported, a policeman in Acre was attacked by an Arab, believed to be a member of the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas group.

The policeman was not harmed, and the attacker was arrested.

(Contributing to this report were JTA correspondents Gil Sedan and Cynthia Mann in Jerusalem.)

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