Must Read: Hitting age 60, nation of Israel gets nostalgic for the old days

JERUSALEM - As Israel celebrates its 60th birthday, Israelis have their gaze set firmly backward.

Turn on the TV and you'll see grainy archive footage and old-timers reminiscing about desert wars and pioneering days on the kibbutz. Radio stations are busy with musical retrospectives and the hottest new CD features contemporary singers covering Israeli favorites from decades past.

The love affair with the past comes at a time of unease - Israelis have much to be proud of but aren't sure what they have to look forward to.

In one typical anniversary project, a newspaper and television station decided to pay homage to photographs from Israel's history by recreating them with their original participants. One 1949 shot of soldiers jubilantly hoisting an improvised Israeli flag against a backdrop of barren hills became a color photograph of a group of elderly men around a flagpole.

As it celebrates its 60th birthday Thursday, Israel has never been richer or stronger. It has weathered assaults that would have crippled some societies and has even thrived.

But Israelis are increasingly alienated from a political system that suffers from deadlock and corruption and seems devoid of leaders able to garner the public's respect. An end to Israel's conflict with its Arab neighbors, which appeared around the corner a decade ago, is now widely seen as a naive dream. And having jettisoned its Spartan, socialist ideals, the country has yet to agree on a positive vision to replace them.

'The nostalgia exists because we have an emptiness today - that's the root,' lawyer Eliad Shraga said. Shraga, a reserve paratroops officer, fought in Israel's Lebanon invasion in 1982 and then in Israel's war with Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon two years ago. For nearly two decades, he has headed a group called the Movement for Quality Government in Israel.

'When I see what's happening with my prime minister, I miss people like David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin, like Golda Meir, people who lived in two-room apartments and made do with very little,' Shraga said. 'Even if you didn't agree with them, you knew they were ethical.'