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Middle East: Israel marks its 70th anniversary, but not everyone shares the joy

Sirens sounded throughout the country at 11:00 a.m. local time on Wednesday, when even in Israel's most vibrant cities life is being paused for two silent minutes, with cars pulling over at the side of the road and people standing still, paying their respects to the dead. Independence Day itself, however, is anything but silent.

Just a few meters outside Jerusalem's Damascus Gate, young Jewish settlers are raising donations "to expand Jewish presence in the West Bank," they shout at passersby. "Every Shekel will bring us closer to redemption," 15-year-old-Naomi tells DW. She generally refuses to talk to the media, but said that "for the holy sake of rebuilding Judea and Samaria, no measure is too extreme."

Meanwhile, two kilometers west of the Old City, 28-year-old Ahmed is helping tourists find their way around the lively quarter. He manages a boutique hotel and is constantly in touch with visitors from all over the world – as well as from other parts of Israel.

"Israel's Independence Day is like any other day for me," he says. "A constant reminder of what I don't have – but also of what I can have." Ahmed is hoping to move to Germany with his girlfriend, to get his master's degree there and eventually find a job. "My parents obviously don't want me to leave," he admits. "Not only because I will be far from them, but also because – in their words – they don't want us [Palestinians] to leave this land for the Jews."

When he was younger, he reveals, he couldn't stand Israelis. "I cursed soldiers. I cursed all of them." But now that he speaks fluent Hebrew and is in daily contact with many Israelis, he thinks differently. "When you are taught from day one that the other people want to destroy you – what are you supposed to think? I don't blame Israelis. I don't blame Palestinians either."

"We have every reason to celebrate,” says 42-year-old Miri Hajbi, a high school teacher who brought her two teenage daughters to watch the annual airshow passing above Sacher Park, one of the most attended events in the city. "We are strong, we are united, we have a blooming high-tech industry and a powerful army – we made it against all odds,” she pauses for a bit, "and whoever's got a problem with that is welcome to test us."

Her words resonate with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statements at the ceremony, in which he declared that the Jewish state was becoming a "world power," adding that its light would overcome what he called its enemies' "darkness."

In another 70 years' time, he continued, "you'll find a country that is many times stronger because what we've done until today is just the beginning.”

Read more: Israel marks its 70th anniversary, but not everyone shares the joy | News | DW | 19.04.2018

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