Israel begins Independence Day celebrations marred by protests

Israelis protested against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government plans to overhaul the judicial system, on the Independence Day in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 25, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)

JERUSALEM – Israel kicked off annual Independence Day celebrations on Tuesday evening though tens of thousands of people decided instead to again protest at divisive plans by the government to push through restrictions on the judiciary.

As dignitaries and honored guests held the annual torch lighting ceremony in Jerusalem, protesters gathered in Tel Aviv waving blue and white Israeli flags that have become a symbol of the weekly protests against the judicial overhaul plans, now entering their 16th week.

While Independence Day would normally be an occasion for patriotic unity, Israelis remain polarized over the planned legislation that proponents say would restore balance to Israeli authorities and critics say removes checks on those in power.

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"This could be like the last Independence Day as we know it. Next year it might be completely different, it might be like different rules or restrictions," protester Ido Durst, 23, told Reuters. "We have to make a stand especially today."

Israel is marking its 75th anniversary in a fractious and uncertain mood, with some of the deepest social divisions since the foundation of the country in 1948.

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Memorial Day was on Tuesday, honoring the country's military dead, with Independence Day a day later – both traditionally have served as markers of unity in a nation that has fought repeated wars since its creation.