Independence Day is celebrated each year on 5 Iyar, which corresponds to May 14, 1948, the day that the State of Israel was proclaimed. On Wednesday evening we joined thousands of others in our local amphitheatre for a concert and fireworks. There was singing and dancing on the streets, pizza and falafel stalls aplenty. On Independence Day itself everyone packed their picnic baskets with lots of meat and Israeli salad, and headed out in search of the perfect picnic spot. The whole country was dotted with families outdoors enjoying the countryside.
Castel National Park is located on a hill known as Mount Ma‘oz, overlooking the main road to Jerusalem. The word Castel means 'castle' in French - the fortress was built by French Crusaders a thousand years ago and after the Crusaders left, Arabs lived in the area, in a village they called Castel.
During Israel's War of Independence Jerusalem became cut off from the rest of the country. Food, water, medicine and personnel were unable to get through and hunger became a real danger for the Jewish population there. It became clear that only the capture of points along the main road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would change the situation and at the beginning of April 1948, after several days of fighting during which many young men were killed, Israeli forces ultimately captured the village of Castel and it has remained in Israeli hands ever since.
As we sat on the top of Castel the strategic importance of the site was immediately apparent. A beautiful sunny day, we enjoyed a 360 degree view of the surrounding area. Being there hopefully gave the boys a real feeling for how the Jewish soldiers felt at the time. Around the back of the hill were memorial plaques bearing the names of the fallen soldiers and that morning, it being Memorial Day, a service had taken place for the 84 young men who had died in the battle for Castel. Many of them came to Israel from other countries, and some had only been here for a few months. Our visit to Castel was a wonderful way to remember and honour our fallen heroes who died defending our beautiful country.Here's wishing Israel many more meaningful Memorial Day and Independence Day celebrations filled with happiness and peace!
* One of the distinctive flowers for this season is the Red Everlasting, known in Hebrew as Dam Hamaccabim (Blood of the Maccabees). Just as in Britain the red poppy came to symbolise the blood of the fallen on Flanders fields in World War I, and so became the flower worn on Remembrance Sunday, in Israel the Red Everlasting has the same symbolism and is the emblem of Israel's Memorial Day.
I spotted these beautiful flowers on our visit to Castel and to see them flowering there, on that particular day, felt very special.