One of the highlights of my trip was the visit to the Israel Air Force Centre for the graduation ceremony for new pilots of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) on the 70th anniversary of the Israeli Air Force. In a country of compulsory National Service, this is a day of national celebration and televised throughout the nation. The Israel Air Force Centre is located in the Negev desert, near the biblical city of Beersheba.
P-51 Mustang, one of the iconic aircraft of WWII, on permanent display at the Centre’s entrance.
Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu arrives from his offices in Jerusalem.
Although dwarfed by other, larger communities, the Druze community played an important role in shaping the history of the Levant, and continues to play a large political role there. As a religious Arab minority in every country they live in, they have frequently experienced persecution, except in Lebanon and Israel where Druze judges, parliamentarians, diplomats, and doctors occupy the highest echelons of society. Male members of the Druze community, complete with their traditional over-sized mustaches, are here to witness the graduation of one of their own into the ranks of the Israeli Air Force.
A young flight cadet graduates top of her class and receives her cherished wings directly from the Defence Minister. (Note: I have blacked out the faces of the pilots for reasons of security).
The audience of several thousand is made up largely of boisterous and enthusiastic family members who come prepared with signs and posters to cheer on their heroes as each is called forward individually to receive their wings. Above, a tearful family member, overcome by the moment, nearly collapses in a paroxysm of pride and emotion. As Netanyahu said in his address” We’re not just pining wings on you today, but also on your families who have brought you to this point of your lives, the cream of Israeli society”.
Former instructors give a final salute to their young charges in a crowd pleasing fly past of the aircraft types on which they have qualified.
Official ceremonies over, the newly minted pilots race forward to participate in the traditional hat toss.
PM’s security detail waits patiently for departure as Bibi Netanyahu is mobbed by the new graduates for photo ops.
Show is over and the graduates flock to the grandstand where they are almost literally swallowed up in the adulation of their adoring friends and families.
POSTSCRIPT: Our guide, a gnarly veteran of the 6 day war and fellow University of Toronto graduate, was in tears throughout this prestigious and moving ceremony. How he got us into this event remains a mystery but I remain eternally grateful for the opportunity and am left with heart felt thanks and gratitude.