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Page last updated at 21:40 GMT, Wednesday, 7 May 2008 22:40 UK

Joy and sorrow as Israel marks 60th

By Raffi Berg
BBC News, Jerusalem

There was a carnival atmosphere as thousands gathered in Jerusalem

Central Jerusalem erupted in scenes of celebration on Wednesday night as thousands of people streamed through the city to mark Israel's 60th anniversary.

Roads and pavements were jammed solid as jubilant crowds packed into the area around the landmark Zion Square.

Parents with children on their shoulders, youngsters with faces painted in the blue and white of Israel's national colours and groups of teenagers spraying each other with foam and artificial string inched their way through the festive throngs.

Streets were festooned with Israeli flags, some hanging the length of buildings; countless others flew from windows, balconies and lampposts, while more still were draped round shoulders or being waved by hand.

On nearby King George Street, exuberant Israelis yelled patriotic slogans and holiday greetings from passing cars, vehicle horns mixing with claxons in an endless cacophony of noise.

It was, for Israelis, a welcome diversion at a time of little cheer: their prime minister is under investigation by the police, peace talks with the Palestinians are showing no visible progress, communities in the south of the country are being attacked from Gaza, several of Israel's soldiers remain captured and Iran is pursuing a nuclear programme - and, Israel says, a bomb.

'Excited'

The mood of the night stood in sharp contrast from what had earlier been a sombre day, when Israel stopped to remember its fallen soldiers and civilians, killed since the state's creation in 1948.

Woman wears glasses in the shape of the number 60
For Israelis, it was a night for celebration and fun

But the euphoria was tempered by vigilance amid warnings that Palestinian militants might use the occasion to try to stage attacks.

With the country on heightened alert, all police leave had been cancelled in Jerusalem and security was visibly tight in a city repeatedly targeted by suicide bombers in recent years.

It was however a sense of pride in the state's continued survival which brought many Israelis out.

"I'm so excited it's Israel's 60th anniversary," said 26-year-old Sabrena Cowan, who moved to Israel from the UK two years ago.

"It's an historic moment after Israel survived against the odds. This is my heritage, this is our land, it's where Jews can be united - it's where we belong," she said.

Israel's creation is the worst thing that happened to Palestinians
Jhazi
Palestinian resident of Jerusalem

The carnival atmosphere continued on the city's main Jaffa Road, where huge spotlights sent multi-coloured beams swirling around the night sky, while people danced to music pumping from loudspeakers.

Outside the Ron Hostel, where in 1948 future Prime Minister Menahem Begin made his first public speech since emerging from the pre-state Jewish underground movement, the Irgun, the ever-swelling crowds watched a sound and light show depicting the story of Israel.

The spectacle was the centrepiece of a series of events in a city Israel regards as its indivisible capital, but where the Palestinians want to locate the capital of a future state of their own.

Palestinian anguish

In East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel in 1981 in a move not recognised internationally, there was no such celebration among its 208,000 or so Palestinian residents.

For Palestinians, of whom some 700,000 fled or were forced out of their homes in what became present-day Israel, the legacy of 1948 the occasion is known as the Nakba, or the Catastrophe.

"Israel's creation is the worst thing that happened to Palestinians," said Jhazi, 40, outside the Old City's Damascus Gate.

"Look at that," he said, pointing to the spotlights in the distance. "For Israelis, it's a celebration, but for us it's a reminder of the worst day of our lives."

As their state enters its seventh decade, Israelis know that once the revelry is over, many of the problems which beleaguered the country for years still wait to be resolved.



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