Israel Celebrates 60 Years of Statehood
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.
Israel has kicked off its celebration of the country's 60th anniversary. In the coming days, there will be concerts and fireworks and visits from dignitaries, including President Bush. Today, many Israelis are gathered in parks and nature reserves where, even as they celebrate, police have been deployed to prevent terrorist attacks. When Israel was declared a state back in 1948, there were 650,000 Jews. Now there are more than seven million Israelis. NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.
LINDA GRADSTEIN: Yesterday was Israeli's Memorial Day, when families visit cemeteries and ceremonies are held to remember the more than 22,000 soldiers who died in Israel's seven wars since the state was created in 1948. But as darkness fell, the mood changed dramatically.
(Soundbite of music)
GRADSTEIN: Israelis came out to these streets to party. Gary Ginsberg, an economist at Israel's Ministry of Health, says he's proud of Israel.
Mr. GARY GINSBERG (Economist, Israel's Ministry for Health): It's wonderful that the Jewish State is established, and we're still a young country. And we're only 60, so we've got many years ahead of us to improve.
GRADSTEIN: Dena Weiner, a Bible teacher at a Jerusalem school, says she's looking ahead to Israel's future.
Ms. DENA WEINER (Bible Teacher): It's a challenge to make Israel a better place. The generation of founders may be dying out, but I don't think that we're any less valuable and important than they are. We just have a different group of questions to answer and things to change and work on.
GRADSTEIN: Rabbi Avi Novis Deutsch says he also see Israel as a combination of challenges and successes.
Rabbi AVI NOVIS DEUTSCH: Israel is facing more challenges than even than things that are done, that are complete, that are fulfilled. And, in one hand, 60 years old, and at least for human being's perspective, and at the other end, we're so young we're doing so many of these things.
GRADSTEIN: He says different sectors of society, like Orthodox and secular Jews and Jewish and Arab Israelis must learn to respect each other and live together in Israel. Earlier this week, 84-year-old Israel President Shimon Perez met the foreign press. Perez has spent six decades in public service and has done everything from building Israel's nuclear program to serving as prime minister.
President SHIMON PEREZ (Israel): I can't think of any other nation that in such a relatively short period of 60 years to go through seven wars, two intifadas, being inferior in numbers and qualities - in quantities, and so right. (unintelligible) I know there are people criticizing us here and there. None of them can understand what we went through in our own house.
GRADSTEIN: Perez said he's proud of Israel's vibrant democracy and the country's high-tech revolution. There are more Israeli companies traded on the NASDAQ than any other country except for the U.S. and Canada.
Pres. PEREZ: Israel is first in the world in (unintelligible), in agricultural, in medical equipment. Forty percent of the medical equipment is Israeli made. In home security, (unintelligible). And in all those years, we never interrupted our efforts to make peace.
GRADSTEIN: Perez cited Israel's peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and said he hopes a final deal with the Palestinians will be signed soon.
(Soundbite of cheering, fireworks)
GRADSTEIN: Back on the streets of Jerusalem, fireworks lit up the night sky as the band sang a song "Yachad" about togetherness.
Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.