Israel is marking its 60th Independence Day, which began at sunset yesterday, with a great sense of pride but also uncertainty about its future and doubts about prospects for peace with the Palestinians.
This Independence Day is marred by a fresh criminal inquiry of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose legal woes are calling his political survival into question just as he is moving to forge a peace deal with the moderate Palestinian leadership in the West Bank.
However, Israelis are putting aside their frustration with politics for what is expected to be one of the most joyous birthday celebrations since the first on May 14, 1948 – a date marked each year in Israel by the Hebrew calendar.
Independence Day began just as Memorial Day for fallen soldiers ended – a jarring contrast between solemnity and joy that underlined the link between the military and the existence of Israel.
Events marking Israel’s 60th include plays, concerts, sports tournaments, Holocaust memorials and inauguration of a footpath around the Sea of Galilee.
NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman, the first Jewish crew member on the international space station, 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,” said the American-born astronaut.
Also yesterday, Jewish communities worldwide joined Israelis in a rendition of the Israeli anthem – Hatikva, or The Hope. Their goal: to enter the Guinness World Records for the most people singing a national anthem at the same time.
During the holiday, Israel is prohibiting Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza from entering Israel, fearing attempts by militants to disrupt the celebrations.
US president George Bush will attend a conference in Jerusalem next week marking the anniversary, along with Tony Blair, Henry Kissinger, Mikhail Gorbachev, Rupert Murdoch and the founders of Google and Facebook.
Shimon Peres, Israel’s 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,” Mr Peres said. “But Israel can become a daring laboratory.”