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Israel Celebrates Its 60th Anniversary Amid New-Found Security

One of the most dramatic events of the 20th century was the founding of the modern state of Israel 60 years ago. VOA's Jim Teeple reports that on Israel's 60th birthday many Israelis say they feel more secure and confident about their future than they have in years.

Ben Yehuda Street is a relaxed place these days. Strollers take time to browse and the area is packed with tourists.

A few years ago, Ben Yehuda Street and downtown Jerusalem were no place for strollers. The violence sparked by the second Palestinian revolt or Intifada killed about a thousand Israelis and some four thousand Palestinians.

Now for many Israelis - like those who work at Cafe Joe on King George Street - the Intifada is a distant memory.

The cafe's new building with large glass windows and outdoor tables could not have been built when suicide bombers struck at will.

Moshe Yeffet, the owner, and Yossi, the manager, say improved security has made them confident about the future. "God knows, but we feel comfortable and we feel good about security, but we put our faith in God," Yeffet said.

High walls and checkpoints guarantee their security.

This wall is part of Israel's 700-kilometer security barrier. It runs mostly along the border between Israel and the occupied West Bank. The barrier keeps West Bank Palestinians from entering Jerusalem.

Palestinians say the barrier is illegal. And the checkpoints restrict their travel in the West Bank and Israel.

But Israel says the measures have stopped the bombings.

Attacked at birth by Arab armies, the Jewish state has survived against tremendous odds. The country has fought six wars against its Arab neighbors and has peace treaties with only two.

Gershon Cohen runs a small publishing house in Jerusalem. He says from the beginning, although outnumbered, Israelis had the confidence that helped them make history. "In 1948, I was 19-years-old and we were in the army in Jerusalem. The Jewish citizens were about 70,000 here, in all of Israel about a half million and we never believed we would lose the war. Now we are seven million. We have a good economy and we are enlarging. That is what I believe and continue to believe it is getting better and better," he said.

Yehezkel Dror is one of Israel's leading political scientists. He says Israel has achieved much. But the future is far from sure, "Israel's achievements are a heroic success. It is hard to find a precedent of a moving population setting up a state and a special type of state. The success of 60 years does not provide enough momentum to choose a future."

Iran could have an impact on Israel's future.

Iran is developing nuclear technology and its President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said Israel should be wiped off the map.

Israeli leaders say Iran with a nuclear bomb is out of the question for the Jewish state.

Whether Israel makes peace with the Palestinians who live in Arab east Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip could also determine its future.

Gershon Cohen says, in any case, Israel is not going away, "We want to find a final solution with the Arabs, but if not we have to believe we will win everywhere and everyplace."

And so Israelis go about their daily business as if threats do not exist, on land that Jews have considered their homeland for three thousand years. Jews from around the world come here to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem - Judaism's holiest site.

Political scientist Yehezkel Dror says Jews who choose to live in Israel share a profound commitment to each other.

He says this is perhaps Israel's greatest achievement, "It means today that you feel yourself part of the Jewish people and Judaism, and regard yourself as a Jew with commitments to Jews everywhere.”