By Martin Fletcher, NBC News Correspondent
Posted: Wednesday, May 07, 2008 8:05 AM
Israel's logo for its 60th anniversary harks back to the good old days – an innocent boy in shorts romping with a variation of the Israeli flag unfurling behind him.
But you can't please everyone. One orthodox Jewish member of parliament trashed the symbol, saying the child looks "frumpy and should get a haircut."
That could sum up the reservations of many Israelis about their country as its leaders prepare to celebrate its 60th anniversary.
Festivities being met with a yawn
President Bush will be coming later in the month for part of the festivities, reportedly with about 800 of his closest friends and bodyguards. And a dozen other leaders from countries as diverse as Rwanda, Burkina Faso and Latvia, will attend too, along with the world's A-list of party stars Tony Blair, Henry Kissinger and Mikhail Gorbachev. Paris Hilton will be absent, to the chagrin of ordinary Israelis, who appear to be treating the party with a yawn.
For most people Independence Day on Thursday will proceed as usual – children spraying each other with string foam and hitting each other on the head with squeaky plastic hammers, a violent custom that apparently goes back to the days of pre-plastic Persia; barbeques on every square foot of public space; and car drivers flying the Israeli flag. It's a raucous annual celebration of what Israelis see as one of the great achievements of the twentieth century: After 2,000 years, the return of the Jews to the land of Zion.
The ensuing conflict with the Palestinians over the right to the land, the tarnishing of the Jewish dream in the face of brute reality, the wake-up call of the need to survive, none of these harsh facts detract from the central achievement, that a persecuted people never gave up on their dream and 2,000 years after their expulsion, and dispersal around the globe, gathered together again, revived their dead language, and created one of the world's most exciting countries.
A land of contradictions
I've reported from Israel for almost half its lifetime. What always strikes me is the contradiction between the glory of its existence and the mundane reality of what it takes to exist. One friend, an archaeologist and former Mossad agent, summed up his varied interests saying that his two worlds complement each other perfectly. In one he collects and analyses data to understand the past, in the other he collects and analyses data to understand the future.
For me, that sums up the central dilemma of Israel, where the past determines the future: how to exist as a light unto nations, according to its own high standard, in a region where, just to survive, it has adopted the harsh methods of its neighborhood, so successfully that it is known as the neighborhood bully.
Israel is a land of contradictions: a desert that reaches the sea; snow-capped mountains with ski resorts two hours away from sun-drenched beaches; Jerusalem, the heart of three great religions, where the prayers never end, less than an hour from the fleshpots of Tel Aviv, the city that never sleeps. Centers of hi-tech and innovation alongside the greatest biblical scholars in the world, a powerful military force pitted daily against home-made rockets, a vibrant economy with one of the world’s strongest currencies and one of the greatest gaps between rich and poor in the developed world.
It's a head-spinning place, and all the more vibrant for it. Few first-time visitors leave without saying something like: "I had no idea what a great place Israel is."
But few visit the 20 foot high wall and fence that is supposed to keep out suicide bombers, or visit a Jewish settlement on the West Bank, or see the fence around Gaza.
For Israel is a bipolar place. One reality exists alongside another: war and peace, love and hate, pain and joy.
Israel at 60 is a fascinating and challenging country, unlike any other.
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