Israel to Mark Independence Day Despite Tragedy

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israel seems set to go ahead with a gala Independence Day program despite a tragedy that took place during rehearsals in Jerusalem this week in which a soldier died.

Hila Bezaleli, a 20-year-old army medic, died while participating in Independence Day rehearsals. She was trapped under heavy steel rigging, which collapsed when a cable connecting heavy outdoor lighting fixtures snapped.

Speaker of the Knesset Reuven Rivlin was one of several government officials who want the ceremony to take place at Mt. Herzl.

"In spite of the grief and the great sorrow, Memorial and Independence Day services must take place as planned and on time on Mt. Herzl," Rivlin said. "This is due to the symbolic importance of the mountain and its proximity to the gravestones of those who died in Israel's military campaigns."

Rivlin said that while the tragedy would "most certainly affect the ceremonies," preparations for the holidays should still be completed on time.

Family and friends of Bezaleli were also quoted as saying they wanted the ceremony to take place and be dedicated to Bezaleli and not cancel it.

Bezaleli's mother, who has worked at Mt. Herzl for 16 years, said "it was a miracle that similar incidents in the past didn't end in tragedy."

"If my daughter would have died during an [IDF] operation in Jericho, I would have known she died for the country. But these soldiers were put at risk for nothing."

The Jerusalem District Court released all but one person taken in for questioning over Wednesday's accident on Mt. Herzl, in which Bezaleli was killed  and seven others injured, one critically.

The court extended the remand of the show's producer, withholding his name from public disclosure. The court initially arrested eight people connected with the production, releasing four the same day.

Three others, including the company's chief operating officer, a safety consultant and an engineer, were also released, though they may still face charges after further investigation. The court ruled that releasing them would not impede the investigation.

The appropriate government ministries are deciding whether to move Memorial and Independence Day celebrations -- traditionally held on Mt. Herzl because of the proximity to the military cemetery there -- to an alternate location.

Israel's Memorial Day and Independence Day (Yom Ha'atzmaut) are held back to back. The nation literally transitions at sundown from mourning to celebration.

Memorial Day -- Yom Ha'Zikaron in Hebrew -- honors soldiers and their families who died defending the country. In recent years, Israelis killed by terrorists are also remembered on this day.


YNet contributed to this report.

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