Israel’s largest and most expensive torch-lighting ceremony took place on Wednesday evening in Jerusalem. The traditional event kicks off Israel’s Independence Day, which marks 70 years since Israel’s establishment this year.

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Following a national day of remembrance for terror victims and those who gave their lives protecting the State of Israel, Israel’s 70th Independence Day began with the traditional torch-lighting ceremony in Jerusalem on Wednesday evening. This year’s ceremony was the largest and most expensive in Israel’s history, with 1,500 participants and more than 6,500 people in the audience.

In an unprecedented move, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended the ceremony and even participated in it, lightening a torch and delivering a 14-minute speech. Netanyahu’s plans to participate in the ceremony sparked outrage in Israel, even from within his own political party. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud), who is in charge of the ceremony, had threatened to boycott the event due to Netanyahu’s plans. However, the two eventually agreed that both would participate by delivering short remarks and lightening a torch.

Soldiers celebrate 70 years of Israel

Soldiers celebrate 70 years of Israel Photo Credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90

“In 70 CE, the menorah went out but today, in Israel’s 70th year, the menorah is the symbol of our country and its lights are stronger than ever,” Netanyahu said. “Also today, there are those who want to extinguish our light. I promise you that this won’t happen. Our light will always prevail over their darkness.”

Netanyahu concluded his speech by calling for peace with Israel’s neighbors. “A deep admiration is beginning to reach another important place—the Arab states,” he said. “And here I believe there are real seeds for peace. And to our enemies who think that we are a passing phenomenon—in 70 years they’ll find a country 70 times stronger. Because what we’ve done so far is just the beginning.”

Netanyahu at the ceremony

Netanyahu at the ceremony Photo Credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90

After the ceremony, Israelis nationwide started to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary of independence. The celebrations will continue today with the traditional Israeli Air Force flyover, which can be seen from some 40 cities and towns across Israel. Dozens of aircraft will take part in the flyover, including F-16s and F-35s. In addition, IAF bases will be open to the public and a celebratory parachute parade and naval flotilla will take place.

Watch: Netanyahu’s Independence Day greeting