JERUSALEM – Israel's leaders marked their country's 64th year of independence on Thursday with a ceremony in Jerusalem, singing classical Hebrew songs and honoring outstanding soldiers.
"Israel does not threaten its region, does not seek to rule another people, and does not wish ill for any other nation," President Shimon Peres said. "Israel, despite its strength, prefers bridges of peace over fences of hostility."
Israelis flocked to beaches and thronged parks for barbecues across the nation, filling the air with the scent of grilled meat and charcoal. Military bases were open to visitors for the holiday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to award the Israel Prize in the evening, a prestigious honor in the fields of entertainment and academia.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton congratulated Israel.
"For many around the world, Israel remains a beacon of hope and an inspiring example," she said Wednesday in an official statement.
Government statistics showed that Israel's population grew by 137,500 since last year to 7,881,000. The Central Bureau of Statistics said 75 percent of the population is Jewish, 21 percent is Arab, with the remainder belonging to tiny minorities or immigrants who are not Jewish.
Also, more than 500,000 Israeli citizens live as settlers in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas Palestinians claim for their future state.
While Independence Day is a joyful celebration in Israel, Palestinians will mark the creation of the Jewish state in mid-May with a day of mourning.