Photo: Flash90

Israel celebrates 72nd Independence Day amid COVID-19 curfew

Israel’s annual airforce acrobatic fly-over on Independence Day featured special tributes this year. Military jets flew in formation in the skies above hospitals and medical facilities in aerial salutes to the country’s medical caregivers and first responders on the front lines against the coronavirus.

“We wish for you and all the citizens of Israel robust and vigorous health and a happy Independence Day,” one of the squadron pilots said in a message to health workers.

The display was cheered on by flag-waving doctors, nurses and residents in face masks from the rooftops of their facilities.

Four more Israelis have succumbed to the coronavirus, raising the total number of those who have died of the disease to 212. The Health Ministry today confirmed an additional 747 infections for a total 15,782 cases. 120 patients are currently in critical condition, with 91 in need of ventilators. 7,929 Israelis have now recovered from COVID-19 following the recuperation of an additional 554 patients.

In contrast to previous years, today’s celebration of the 72nd anniversary of Israel’s 1948 independence was held amid a nationwide lockdown ordered by the government to prevent traditional social gatherings. In a normal year, families and friends flock to beaches and other public spaces for barbecues and parties.

While the government has begun to ease some curbs to contain the coronavirus epidemic, mandatory curfews were reimposed for the back-to-back Memorial Day and Independence Day holidays on Tuesday (April 28) and Wednesday to reduce the risk of contagion.

According to Israel Police Spokesman Superintendent Micky Rosenfeld, the “full security and health lockdown across Israel” was enforced by more than 6,000 officers, who operated 44 roadblocks in between all major cities. “Our units are on the ground coordinating with helicopter units; technology and drones are being used. And, we are making sure that every step is being implemented to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Israel,” he said.

Citizens were instructed to remain in their homes from 5 PM yesterday until 8 PM this evening, and only allowed to leave if in need of medicine or other essential items, or to access vital services in their own municipal districts or an adjacent one if it was not available nearby.  Moreover, people were only permitted to be 500 meters away from their residences for the purposes of exercising, praying or participating in any other Health Ministry-approved activities while wearing face masks (over the age of 7) and maintaining social distancing of two meters.

The annual ceremony at the President’s residence in Jerusalem was also conducted in an altered format. In a special address broadcast to the public, President Reuven Rivlin praised the citizens of Israel for their uplifting resilience and called for them to toast the country together. “We celebrate independence this year under the shadow of the corona crisis. Separated, but together,” said the Israeli President, adding, “All of us, on the balconies, through the windows, in the retirement homes, in the hospitals, in IDF bases, on Zoom. All of us raise a cup for the State of Israel, for the life of this nation and how good it is.”

“The State of Israel was born out of hope, a hope two thousand years old. In its 72 years, we have established an advanced industry and created a rich and diverse culture. We have developed innovative, dynamic and rich farming that the whole world is eyeing for its fruits. These days of crisis are an important reminder of the link between our agriculture and our independence,” he went on to say.

President Reuven Rivlin underscored, “We are an ancient and innovative nation, a nation that draws strength, values, and faith from an ancient tradition. A nation that is learning to regenerate, change, dare and win.”