One of the highlights of last week’s Israel’s Independence Day festivities was the official torch lighting ceremony at Jerusalem’s Mt Herzl. Honoured this year were people considered to be innovators and trailblazers in their respective fields.
Among this year’s honorees were: leading mobile navigation app Waze founder Ehud Shabtai; Iron Dome rocket defence system inventor Danny Gold; Israeli female fighter pilot pioneer Alice Miller; Israel Prize-winning medicine developer Marta Weinstock-Rosin; disaster relief champion, Israel Flying Aid founder Gal Lusky; Talmudic scholar and author Malka Puterkovsky, and Dan Korkovsky, an IDF officer who, like others in his special IDF unit for autistic soldiers, has turned his disability into an asset for Israel through his abilities to process complex intelligence data.
As Canadian historian and columnist Gil Troy wrote about the event:
These beacon-lighters – selected by Netanyahu’s conservative government – serve as a human patchwork quilt illustrating a country far more complex, humane, modern, democratic, and liberal than headlines suggest.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of the ceremony was the torch lighting by Israeli Arab Lucy Aharish, a journalist and news presenter for the Israel-based English language news channel i24.
As the Times of Israel reported:
Aharish was teary-eyed when she took her turn at the ceremony, saying she was lighting the torch “for all human beings wherever they may be who have not lost hope for peace, and for the children, full of innocence, who live on this Earth.
“For those who were but are no more, who fell victim to baseless hatred by those who have forgotten that we were all born in the image of one God. For Sephardim and Ashkenazim, religious and secular, Arabs and Jews, sons of this motherland that reminds us that we have no other place. For us as Israel, for the honor of mankind, and for the glory of the State of Israel,” she said.
Aharish, the only Arab lighting a torch in the ceremony, also spoke in Arabic, saying: “For our honor as human beings, this is our country and there is no other.”
You don’t have to understand Hebrew or Arabic to appreciate watching Aharish deliver her heartfelt remarks, which can be viewed here:
Ahead of Israel’s Independence Day, the Times of Israel published a lengthy profile on Aharish and her remarkable journey from her modest beginnings in the sleepy Negev town of Dimona, to a Palestinian terror attack survivor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem graduate and – today – a prime time news anchor.
Aharish pointed to her upbringing in mostly Jewish Dimona as the basis for her rare vantage point – being able to relate to both Jewish and Arab Israeli communities.
“Today, when people ask me ‘What are you?’ I say that I’m an Israeli. I’m not ashamed of my Israeliness. Then I’m a woman, and then I’m an Arab Muslim. That’s the order: Israeli, woman, Arab Muslim.”
While she told the Times of Israel that she has been exposed to a lot of incidents of racism of the years – particularly during times of heightened terrorism – she was quick to point out that there are always other Jewish Israelis who have come to her defence.
Aharish praised her high school principal Meir Cohen, later to become Dimona mayor and most recently minister of welfare and social services as a member of the Yesh Atid party, for his uncompromising stance against racism.
“Violence and racism were never tolerated. He would stop the school day every time graffiti was written about me. He would stand in front of the entire grade and say, ‘This will not happen in my school. Racism is something that no decent society, and especially not Jewish society, can tolerate.’
In that article, Aharish responded to reports that her honour was criticised by some attention-seeking Jewish and Arab extremists in Israel who are opposed to coexistence.
“I don’t want to waste any time responding to hate mongers,” she told i24news. “I’ve also learned that some Arabs called to rally against me. Some Arabs see me as a traitor, while others are proud of me (…) like the Jews, not all Arabs share the same way of thinking.”