Israelis celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, on Thursday, reveling in the country’s 68th birthday. Tens of thousands of Israelis went to the country’s national parks, the Sea of Galilee, and beaches, and thousands more went to IDF bases. The Israeli Air Force carried out flyovers over Israel’s major cities, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Beersheba, Tiberias, Haifa, and Netanya, as thousands of Israelis watched fireworks shows and participated in street celebrations. One reveler, Yuval Iluz of Moshav Arugot, told The Times of Israel, “We [his family] deliberately go to the national parks. It has more of the atmosphere of a holiday, of being with the Israeli nation.” Iluz expressed the importance of the day: “We Jews have a lot of holidays, but Israeli Independence Day is special. In 68 years, we’ve done what many nations haven’t succeeded in doing, in technology and science and army power. We’re in a geographically difficult location and while there’s a lot that we can improve upon, we’ve done well and that’s what I want to celebrate.” Dozens of United Nations ambassadors wished Israel happy birthday in a video, including representatives of the U.S., UK, Germany, Austria, Argentina, South Korea, and Eritrea.
On the occasion, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fielded a host of questions on Twitter, urging users of the social media platform to #AskNetanyahu. The questions and answers ranged from the playful to the serious. Asked why Israel has been so successful in becoming a technological powerhouse, Netanyahu replied, “Our people are innovative and our economy is free. A winning combination.” He also tweeted that he is excited to visit African countries, including Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Rwanda, to build ties between those nations and Israel. When asked by Peace Now about whether or not he is willing to pursue peace, Netanyahu answered, “Nobody wants peace more than me and Israel. I’ve lost a brother, I’ve been wounded in battle, I’ve lost many dear friends. We’ll never give up on the quest for peace.”
In commemoration of Israel’s 68th birthday, Israeli comedian Benji Lovitt listed 68 things he loves about his country in The Times of Israel.
The Arab-Israeli owner of a Columbus restaurant that was attacked by a machete-wielding terrorist in February said he now feels compelled to fight anti-Semitism and educate others about the Jewish state.“I’m an American Israeli Christian Arab. My being Israeli comes first,” Hany Baransi recently told The Times of Israel. Baransi believes his Israeli identity is why the Nazareth Restaurant and Deli, which displays both Israeli and American flags, was subject to a “targeted assassination” by 30-year-old Mohamed Bary earlier this year.
On the day of the attack, Bary had briefly entered the establishment and asked employees about the nationality of its owner. When told that Baransi is Israeli, Bary departed and returned half an hour later with a machete. His subsequent rampage left four people injured, one critically.
Following the assault, Bary fled Nazareth and led cops on a five-mile car chase. He was shot dead after exiting his vehicle with the machete and lunging at officers with a cry of “Allahu Akbar.”
While the Guinea native had previously come to the FBI’s attention for making radical Islamist statements, the attack has still not been classified as terrorism. Baransi is frustrated with the lack of official recognition of what happened, saying that few local politicians have reached out to him and that the FBI has not shared any information about its ongoing investigation.
He was touched, however, by the outpouring of support he received from his local community, as well as from Jews and Israelis living across the United States. He was invited to the AIPAC policy conference in March, where he got to meet the current Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, as well former ambassador and current Knesset member Michael Oren. Dermer also sent Baransi a large Israeli flag to display in his restaurant.
Baransi mentioned that after the attack, he was angry and bothered by the idea “that somebody could have died because of me.” But now, after traveling to Israel for the first time in nearly a decade, he’s feeling better. “It’s good to be around Israelis who understand what being the victim of terrorism is like,” he explained. “We are Israelis. We are resilient.”
Since the attack, Baransi stopped going into his restaurant on a daily basis. He now spends much of his time acting as an “unofficial Israeli ambassador.”
“I am going to fight hatred against Jews and Israelis. My daily job will be to give speeches and meet with church and charity groups to educate them about Israel, so people get the facts straight,” he said.
Baransi left Israel and returned to Columbus in time to host his first Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day) celebration at the Nazareth restaurant on Thursday. The event will be hosted along with pro-Israel and Jewish student groups.
In an exclusive interview days after the attack, Baransi told The Tower that he will not be deterred from openly sharing his Israeli identity. “They don’t scare me. We are Israelis. We are Israelis. We are resilient, we fight back.” (via TheTower.org)