JERUSALEM (JTA) — A day of national mourning turned to celebration as Israel marked the beginning of its Independence Day, but the brother of captive soldier Gilad Shalit interrupted the official ceremony at Mount Herzl.
Celebrations began Monday evening, when the state flag was raised from half to full mast during the national ceremony.
Twelve torches were lit to begin the Independence Day celebrations. One was lit by Moshe Holtzberg, 4, and his grandparents. Moshe is the son of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, whose parents were killed in a terrorist attack on the Chabad House in Mumbai, where they served as emissaries.
In his Independence Day message, President Shimon Peres marveled at how far the young country has come.
"As we celebrate 63 years of statehood, we can look back on the historic miracle of the birth of a nation, the State of Israel. And we can laud one of our greatest leaders, David Ben-Gurion, for declaring the establishment of a Jewish state, a homeland, one momentous day in May 1948. Immediately afterward we were attacked — outmanned, outnumbered, outgunned.
"From the debris of the War of Independence arose one of the best and most moral armies in the world. The desert turned into a model of state-of-the-art agriculture admired by all. Israel’s development in fields such as high tech, science, technology and medicine has placed her at the forefront of advances in these areas the world over."
Shalit’s brother Yoel interrupted the ceremony, waving signs reading "Gilad is still alive." Yoel Shalit, his girlfriends and several other activists were escorted from the ceremony.
Asked by opposition leader Tzipi Livni to return to the ceremony, the activists reportedly declined and left the area.
Sixty-three national heritage sites were open free to visitors Tuesday in honor of the national holiday. Tens of thousands of Israelis converged on the country’s national parks to hold htier Independence Day barbeques.