As Israel marks its 60th birthday, its citizens would seem to have plenty to celebrate. Situated on a patch of stony land, democratic Israel has endured the ravages of war and terrorism and an assortment of enemies sworn to destroy it. Israelis have managed to revive Hebrew, a 4,000-year-old language, and turn it into a vibrant instrument of elegant novelists and growling rappers. In cities like Tel Aviv and Haifa, the high-tech industry has produced years of robust growth and fostered a culture of creativity and inventiveness that is the envy of the Middle East.
But the mood in Israel today is more pensive than jubilant. The birth of Israel was a desperate affair; it arose from Holocaust ashes, and Arab countries vowed to carry on where the Nazis had left off. Sixty years ago, Israelis didn't have the luxury of undergoing an identity crisis.
That quest for identity is ever present. Is Israel a Jewish state or a state for Jews? Is religion more important than national identity? Examined closely, Israel more resembles a mosaic than a real country: the black-hatted ultra-Orthodox are at odds with the beach boys of Tel Aviv; the Jews who fled Europe feel superior to those who flooded in from North Africa and the Middle East; the latecomers--Russians (many of them not practicing Jews) and Ethiopians--are still struggling to fit in; and the Israeli Arabs, who constitute 20% of the population, complain that they are treated as second-class citizens or potential suicide bombers. Israelis like to joke that if you bring three Israelis together, you have five opinions. President Shimon Peres recently remarked that in Israel, "everyone begrudges everyone else."
Sixty years since its birth, Israel still lives in peril and without peace. Israelis worry about the threat of a nuclear attack from Iran. They worry that Hizballah will pepper them with more missiles launched from southern Lebanon and that Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza will inevitably land in a crowded Negev school yard. And they worry that Palestinian suicide bombers will once again explode in the buses and cafès of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. "We used to think that every year we survived was a miracle, a gift," an Israeli friend confides gloomily, "but now all I think about are the threats ahead."
Most Israelis realize they must give the Palestinians their own state. To hang on to the occupied territories would mean that before long, Arabs would outnumber the Jews in so-called Greater Israel. Some of Israel's anxieties would vanish if Israelis reached peace with the Palestinians. But both groups are so bound up in their own sense of victimization--the Israelis over the Holocaust, the Palestinians over the loss of their land--that they are blind to the legitimate needs of the other. Palestinians speak of pushing the Israelis into the sea. Israelis speak of driving the Arabs into the desert sands. But the majority of sensible people on both sides know neither outcome is possible. Somehow they must agree to share the land and tolerate each other's presence even if it takes another 60 years.
Holy Land What will Israel look like 60 years from now? Hear the answers of Elie Wiesel, Dennis Ross, Etgar Keret and others and see more of Tivadar Domaniczky's images at time.com/israel