April 30, 1998
It was 50 years ago this week that David Ben-Gurion announced to the world the formation of the modern state of Israel. This week, Israel remembers its tumultuous past and examines its future. Charles Krause reports on the festivities in Jerusalem and throughout the Jewish state. Also, view a timeline of Israeli history.
JIM LEHRER: Charles Krause has the Israel story.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
A timelime of Israeli history.
November 7, 1997
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tries to keep his coalition together.
November 5, 1997
The political choices facing Chairman Arafat.
November 3, 1997
An interview with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
September 12, 1997
James Baker and Zbigniew Brzezinski discuss the peace process.
September 4, 1997
Three bombs explode in a Jersualem mall.
March 4, 1997
An interview with the Palestinian Minister of Education Hanan Ashrawi.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Middle East.
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Information on Israel from the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C..
CHARLES KRAUSE: The celebration of Israel's 50th jubilee officially began last night with a spectacular display of fireworks over the capital--Jerusalem--and other cities throughout Israel. Earlier in the day, sirens brought the country to a virtual standstill. Most Israelis stopped whatever they were doing for a two-minute period of silence to remember the dead from Israel's many wars. By way of contrast, today's celebrations included an impressive show of the nation's formidable military strength, a reminder of Israel's half century of struggle to survive and vanquish the hostility of its Arab neighbors.
The birth of modern Israel.
On November 29, 1947, the United Nations narrowly voted to partition British Palestine into two states, one Jewish, the other Arab. Six months later, the British mandate ended, and David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, proclaimed an independent Israeli state. But within hours, armies from the surrounding Arab nations launched an offensive, claiming that all of what had been British Palestine belonged to them. The fighting continued for months, and six thousand Jews, one percent of Israel's population, during the 1948 war for independence. Sixteen thousand 16,000 Palestinian Arabs were also killed, while hundreds of thousands of others fled or were expelled. Finally, in January 1949, there was a cease-fire, but no official truce or peace accord. The new Palestinian state called for by the U.N. never came into being and for years Arabs refused to recognize Israel's right to exist.
Beginning in biblical times, Jews have lived in ancient Jerusalem and what is now Israel. But their numbers swelled beginning early in the 20th century, and they were joined by pioneer Zionists from Eastern Europe and Russia. The country's population doubled again between 1945 and Israel's independence three years later as survivors of the Holocaust from Europe and thousands of Jews from Arab nations sought refuge in what would become the Jewish state.
In the years since, Israel has grown to a nation of nearly six million people, one million of whom are Muslim and Christian Arabs. Over the past 50 years, Israel has fought five wars at a cost of at least 10,000 Israeli lives and even more Arab casualties. As a result of the wars and diplomatic arrangements, Israel now controls most of the Golan Heights bordering Syria, occupies part of Southern Lebanon, as well as most of the West Bank of the Jordan River, and all of Jerusalem.
A hope for peace.
In 1993, Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization signed the Oslo Peace Accords that led to Israel's withdrawal from most of the Gaza Strip. With the Israelis, the Palestinians also now share control of nearly 30 percent of the West Bank. But Prime Minister Rabin's assassination by a Jewish extremist three years ago revealed deep divisions within Israel over the peace process and how far it should go. Still, Israel remains a lively and an absolutely open parliamentary democracy. Its economy is also thriving. With modern high-tech industries, world-class universities, and a vibrant culture, Israel ranks today among the most prosperous and sophisticated nations anywhere in the world.
But for all its undeniable achievements and stability, many Israelis expressed concern that Israel's deep religious, social, and political divisions threaten the country's future. And those divisions were evident today. At the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, liberal Israelis prayed for peace, protesting the current government's tough approach to the Palestinians. Meanwhile, at Har Homa in East Jerusalem, liberal and hard-line Israelis protested the government's decision to begin construction of a controversial housing project on what once was Arab land. It's a decision that will almost certainly further antagonize Palestinians.
Indeed, the situation in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel was so tense that security was tightened throughout the country, and most Palestinians living in the West Bank were prohibited from entering Israel proper. The Israeli government reportedly entered the measures, fearing that violent demonstrations or terrorism would mar the Independence Day celebrations. Tonight Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directed his words to Israel's friends and supporters around the world.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: And the millions upon millions of our friends around the world who are watching this tonight, they are hoping and praying that we succeed in fording the river between annihilation and salvation. That is the whole story of Israel.
They are hoping and praying to see Israel triumphant because if Israel succeeds against all odds, that must mean, surely, that there is hope for all of humankind. And to them around the world we say, thank you for your love, thank you for your support on our jubilee.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Vice President Al Gore represented the United States at the ceremony, a reminder of the close relations that have existed between the United States and Israel since Israel's founding 50 years ago.
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