Israelis celebrate, as the Palestinians mourn

Patrick Cockburn in Jerusalem sees the jubilee marked with a show of force underlining religious and other rifts
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The Independent Online
ISRAEL yesterday celebrated 50 years of independence, while Palestinians mourned defeat. To open the celebrations 60 trumpeters blew rams' horns on Mount Hertzl in Jerusalem while Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, said: "What we have achieved is nothing short of a miracle."

As the festivities got under way, with dancing in the streets and fireworks, Al Gore, the US Vice-President, arrived for talks preceding the meeting on the Arab-Israeli conflict in London next week. His officials said he was "not going to negotiate or mediate." The Palestinians have already accepted a US plan by which 13 per cent of the West Bank would be returned to them; Israel says it is only willing to cede 9 per cent.

Celebrations included a fly-past by the air force, a naval display and the dropping of paratroopers on Tel Aviv beach. A flight by a Spitfire dating from the War of Independence in 1948 had to be cancelled because of mechanical troubles. Parks were open for free for picnickers and further diversion was provided by ultra-Orthodox objections to a display by modern dancers at the "Jubilee Bells" festivity last night. The dancers were reported to be intending to strip down to their underwear.

The anniversary celebrations appear finally to have ignited some enthusiasm among Israelis. Previously they appeared to have had more impact in the foreign media than in Israel itself.

Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza are banned from entering Israel while the celebrations continue. Right- wingers were planning to demonstrate at Har Homa, the Jewish settlement between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, called Jebel Abu Ghneim by the Palestinians; Israeli peace activists planned a counter-demonstration. Slogans painted on walls read "Hill of Blood" and "Har Homa equals war." Shimon Peres, the former Israeli prime minister, said in a interview: "I think for the future of Israel and in order for Israel to remain a Jewish state we need a Palestinian state. Otherwise we shall have a binational state and if you ask me a binational tragedy." There was heavier than usual Israeli security in Jerusalem, with Israeli troops guarding the entrances into the old city, which is largely Palestinian.

Mr Gore, officially representing the US, told Israelis: "America will never let you stand alone". He later attended the 'Jubilee Bells' celebration. He will fly on to Saudi Arabia to meet Crown Prince Abdullah and then return to meet Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, in the West Bank town of Ramallah.