Israel has began celebrating its 59th independence day, with thousands planning picnics in parks and nature reserves while bemoaning rising government corruption and the depressing after-effects of the summer's inconclusive war in Lebanon.
Israel's memorial day for fallen soldiers - a somber 24 hours of visits to cemeteries, tales of survivors and sad recollections of wartime losses - gave way in a sudden, stark transition ceremony to the celebration of independence day on Monday.
At the Mt Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, Israeli pioneers and soldiers kindled 12 huge torches to signify the start of the holiday. Soldiers marched in formation, and fireworks lit up the Jerusalem sky on a mild spring evening. Cities and towns set up outdoor stages for entertainment.
Government statistics on the eve of the holiday showed that Israel's population grew by 121,000 since last year to 7,150,000 - 76 per cent Jews, 20 per cent Arabs and 4 per cent listed as "others," many of them non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Families were loading their cars with portable grills, charcoal, food and toys for the kids, many planning an early start to beat the inevitable traffic jams on roads leading to national parks and picnic spots.
Events set for today include awarding the nation's top civilian honor, the Israel Prize, to Israelis who have made outstanding achievements in their fields. One is Alice Shalvi, 80, who immigrated from Great Britain in 1950, recognised for her life's work as a founder of the Israeli feminist movement and pioneer in Jewish education.