Israel unveils 60th birthday plans

Israel Materials 7 April 2008 05:03 (UTC +04:00)

Israel on Sunday rolled out its plans for this year's 60th anniversary celebrations, promising concerts, Holocaust remembrance events and a workshop promoting Arab-Israeli coexistence. ( AP )

Cabinet minister Ruhama Avraham Balila said some of the $28 million budget would go to projects which would last far beyond this year's Independence Day celebrations, including a 750-mile trans-Israel bicycle trail, a footpath circling the Sea of Galilee and the renovation of war memorials around the country.

Some of the celebrations have already begun, while others run through September.

Israel declared statehood in 1948 after Britain ended 31 years of U.N.-mandated rule over Palestine. The date is marked in Israel according to the Hebrew calendar and falls this year on May 8.

A stream of world leaders and other VIPs are to visit Israel for celebrations surrounding the anniversary, with President Bush scheduled to arrive on May 14, Avraham Balila said.

One project is a youth drive to collect 1.5 million marbles, representing the number of Jewish children who perished in the Nazi Holocaust. The marbles will be encased in a monument near Tel Aviv.

"We hope that when children see what one and a half million actually looks like, rather than as an abstract number, it will really bring home the reality of what happened," said Haim Goldberg, head of the steering group for the anniversary observances.

While Independence Day will be marked with fireworks and dancing by Jewish Israelis, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and many of the 1.4 million Arabs who are Israeli citizens see the founding of the Jewish state as a tragic event which they call al-Naqba, Arabic for "the catastrophe."

Avraham Balila acknowledged the sensitivity of the commemoration for Israeli Arabs, who make up about one fifth of the country's population. She said this year's program would include a workshop on coexistence for Jewish and Arab youngsters and a Bedouin festival in the rundown Bedouin desert town of Rahat.