Israelis celebrate nation’s 60th birthday


TEL AVIV (JTA) – Air force jets streaked across the country’s coastline as sailboats bobbed in the sea below. Spectators packed the shores, climbing on rooftops for a better view of the air show as Israelis came out Thursday to celebrate 60 years of statehood.

The nation’s mood shifted from mourning to celebration the night before as Memorial Day gave way to Independence Day. City squares were filled with revelers who came to hear concerts and watch fireworks and sound and light shows.

Party goers danced until the wee hours of the morning at clubs and house parties, and even in the streets. Families crowded parks, filling the air with dense clouds of barbecue smoke. Israeli flags flapped in the wind from apartment balconies and car windows, and children chased each other with bottles of silly string.

The festivities were marred on the Tel Aviv beach when a paratrooper in the air show was blown off course by heavy winds and landed on the shore, injuring himself and nine others. The paratrooper and one spectator were taken to the hospital in serious condition, Israeli media reported.

Kicking off Independence Day events, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik tried to strike an upbeat note, despite the rather grim political mood in the country.

“The State of Israel is an unusual success story, a wonder by any historical standard,” Itzik said.

“We had no miracles. We built this splendid achievement with our own hands.”

The defense establishment played a key role in official events for the day. In Haifa, the navy exhibited its ships and submarines, and its underwater commando held a demonstration. Along the northern border, an air force base was open to the public, as was the country’s intelligence training school near Tel Aviv.

The school exhibited espionage equipment and offered guided tours of tunnels modeled after those in the Gaza Strip that are used for smuggling weapons across the border from Egypt. Also on display was a model of a Hezbollah base used in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, in the real security world, a closure on the West Bank was imposed and the police were put on high alert in light of warnings of terror attacks.

Walking among the crowds in Tel Aviv, Yaniv Bashan took in the meaning of the day.

“It’s a nostalgic time, people are looking back at what was,” said Bashan, a 29-year-old engineer. “There are lots of questions about the future but it’s clear the situation is much better now than it was 60 years ago.”

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