A Jewish astronaut greets Israel from space.
Revelers try to set a record for the most people singing a national anthem. To celebrate turning 60, Israel is staging fireworks, air force flyovers and a birthday bash for anyone born on the day the Jewish state was founded.
Israel is marking its 60th Independence Day, which began at sundown on Wednesday, 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 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 militants while producing scientists who have pioneered Wi-Fi and instant messaging.
Its 41-year occupation of Palestinian territories has invited international condemnation. Yet Israel is a thriving democracy that has provided a haven for the world’s Jews.
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 year 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,” Reisman said.
Also Wednesday, Jewish communities worldwide joined Israelis in a rendition of the Israeli anthem — Hatikva (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 has barred Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza from entering Israel, fearing attempts by militants to disrupt the celebrations.
US President George W. Bush will attend a conference in Jerusalem next week marking the anniversary, along with former British prime minister Tony Blair, former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and Rupert Murdoch.Israeli President Shimon Peres will host 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.
Meanwhile, Israeli aircraft fired missiles at a car and men on foot in two separate strikes in northern Gaza yesterday, wounding four Palestinians, two of them critically, medics said.
The missiles struck near the town of Jebaliya. The critically wounded men are members of the violent Islamic Jihad group, security officials said. The Israeli military said the missiles targeted a rocket launching squad.