Stephen, on May 7 2008, 04:01 PM, said:
Israel celebrates 60 years of statehood
Itzik: State of Israel is an unusual success story
By News Agencies
Tags: Israel, Independence Day
Amid tight security, Israel Wednesday night kicked off 24 hours of celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of its foundation in May 1948.
Overseen by Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, officers raised the Israeli flag from half to full mast, opening a one-hour ceremony at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl, which was to be followed by fireworks and outdoor celebrations throughout the country.
Itzik addressed the crowd at Mount Herzl, saying "the state of Israel is an unusual success story, a wonder by any historical standard."
At the start of her speech, Itzik expressed her sympathy for the bereaved families of Israel's fallen soldiers, saying "at this time only a few people are left to hug the gravestones at the military cemeteries. Millions of citizens owe them their endless gratitude. We will never be able to repay our debt to them."
"We had no miracles," she went on to say, "We built this splendid achievement with our own hands. There is no other country in the world like the state of Israel."
Itzik also addressed the negative aspects of Israeli society, saying "we are aware of grave phenomenon of violence in our society. It is not our wars with our enemies that will break us, but rather we, with our own hands, are capable of dragging ourselves down to places in which we don't want to be."
The Knesset speaker also addressed the world's Arab leaders, saying "we seek peace and we desire peace for your children as well, but beware - our children know very well the art of war if it is required."
Twelve adults, accompanied by 12 children representing the future generation of Israel, then lit twelve torches to honor Israel's anniversary.
The fireworks were to light up the skies from Eilat in the south, to Nahariya in the north. Throughout the evening and night, hundreds of thousands are expected to attend performances by local artists and musicians on outdoor stages erected on central squares across Israel.
Laser and light shows will also be held in a number of major cities.
On Wednesday during the day, the Israel Air Force was to perform off the shores of Tel Aviv and elsewhere, while dozens of naval vessels were to sail from the port city of Haifa in the north to that of Ashdod in the south.
Israelis are also expected to flock to nature reserves and museums, which are open to the public gratis in celebration of the occasion.
Thousands of police, including special units, were to secure the events. Roadblocks were to be set up at city entrances and beefed up forces have begun patrolling the border with the West Bank and Gaza, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
The police have raised their alert to the second-highest level, amid warnings that Arab militants might try to mar the festivities with a major attack.
Israel declared statehood on May 14, 1948, a day before the expiry of Britain's United Nations-mandate over historic Palestine. It traditionally celebrates Independence Day according to the Jewish calendar, which this year falls almost a week before May 14.
Israel's 60th Independence Day began with a great sense of pride but also uncertainty about its future and doubts about prospects for peace with the Palestinians. Six decades after rising from the ashes of the Holocaust, the Jewish state is still plagued by existential threats from abroad and an identity crisis at home.
Israel at 60 is a paradox of exuberance and despair - a country enduring near daily rocket attacks from Gaza militants while producing scientists who have pioneered Wi-Fi and instant messaging.
Independence Day began just as Memorial Day for fallen soldiers ended - a jarring contrast between solemnity and joy that underlines the link Israelis see between their military and the existence of their state.
NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman, the first Jewish crew member on the International Space Station, on Wednesday sent a greeting from space to the people of Israel.
Every time the Station flies over the State of Israel, I try to find a window, and it never fails to move me when I see the familiar outline of Israel coming toward us from over the horizon, he said.
Later Wednesday, Jewish communities around the world were joining Israelis in a rendition of the Israeli national anthem - Hatikva, or The Hope. Their goal: to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for the most people singing a national anthem at the same time.
U.S. President George W. Bush will attend a conference in Jerusalem next week marking the anniversary, along with Tony Blair, Henry Kissinger, Mikhail Gorbachev, Rupert Murdoch and a co-founder of Google.
Peres, Israel's 84-year-old president, is hosting the conference, along with a party for 60-year-old Israelis born on the day Israel declared its independence, re-establishing Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land for the first time in nearly 2,000 years.
"We are small in size, small in numbers, so we cannot become a big market or a big industry," Peres recently told The Associated Press. "But Israel can become a daring laboratory."
In Israel's early days, Peres worked for the country's founding father, David Ben Gurion. Peres went on to become prime minister three times, in addition to winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Now he spends time promoting Israel as a green country and a high-tech powerhouse - including a government plan to install the world's first electric car network here by 2011, with recharging stations all over the country.
Israeli venture capitalists in Jerusalem are setting up an online multimedia encyclopedia generated by users, and a product called Pop Tok that sends video clips from movies and TV shows as instant messages.
Yet Israel is also home to Sderot, a little town near the border with Hamas-ruled Gaza where people huddle in bomb shelters almost every day to escape militants' rockets. Israelis strive to live normal lives, but they live in an abnormal neighborhood, threatened by Iranian-backed militants on both their northern and southern flanks.
They see Iran as their greatest existential threat, with its nuclear program they fear will soon be used to make weapons and its president's public calls for their destruction.
Yet Israel's conflict with the Palestinians is the biggest obstacle to its quest for normalcy. The fighting has only intensified since the Jewish state's creation resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Arabs, and has become a rallying point for Muslim extremists throughout the world.
Palestinians refer to Israel's creation as 'al-Naqba', or the catastrophe.
60 years of statehood...I was born that year...1948...it proves to me that dispensationalism is wrong...Mat 24:34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. God has a covenant with us and the Israel of God.
This post has been edited by Maz: 12 May 2008 - 08:50 AM