Is there too much news for such a small country?

By Robert Sarner, Canadian Jewish News, November 19, 1998

JERUSALEM - Few countries rival Israel when it comes to generating the kind of news that captures headlines around the globe. It's a distinction most Israelis would gladly do without. But what the outside world sees in the media is only the tip of the iceberg, a mere slice of the daily staple of harrowing events, raucous debate and poignant sagas that are so much a part of Israeli society.

To open a newspaper here, or to tune in to the countless newscasts and public affairs programs on the radio and TV, is to be overwhelmed by the drama of life in the Promised Land - much of it played out in near fever pitch in the media. Given such non-stop intensity, it's a wonder the whole nation is not on tranquilizers.

If in many countries, the news is just another form of entertainment, in Israel it's anything but. What happens here matters deeply to people, affecting them directly. Too much is at stake.

In any given week, more hard news occurs in Israel than during half a year in Switzerland, or perhaps even Canada. Take one seven-day period earlier this month as an example:

It began with nation-wide ceremonies to mark the third anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and ended with the peace process derailed by the latest Palestinian bombing attack, this time in Jerusalem. In between, a cavalcade of events unfolded in rapid-fire succession, of which the following is only a selection:

  • A Tel Aviv rally in memory of Rabin attracted 150,000 people.

  • The next day, at a televised state ceremony at Jerusalem's Mt. Herzl Cemetery, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lay a wreath at Rabin's grave, hecklers screamed that he had contributed through incitement to Rabin's murder.

  • President Ezer Weizman warned that, based on recent indications, more political assassinations could happen.

  • Israeli security officials voiced concern over a new Iraqi-UN crisis that might ultimately lead to Iraqi missile attacks on Israel with chemical or biological weapons. The authorities added that nearly one-third of Israelis are without proper gas masks.

  • U.S.-Israeli relations worsened as Jerusalem delayed ratification of the Wye agreement with the Palestinians.

  • An immigrant soldier, killed by Palestinians in the jeep that protected children in a school bus from terrorist bombings, was buried.

  • Left- and right-wing activists, police and Palestinians clashed at the site of the controversial Jewish housing project at Ras al Amud in east Jerusalem.

  • The shekel dropped to a new low against the dollar.

  • There was an outcry over police brutality against university students during protests for lower tuition.

  • An Israeli cabinet minister hosted a meeting during which three major churches in Jerusalem agreed - after five years of deliberations - to build a new exit at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of Christianity's most sacred sites.

  • The Israeli Air Force launched attacks on Hezbollah bases in Lebanon.

  • Municipal election campaigns were marred by unprecedented levels of violence against candidates and campaign workers.

  • The Supreme Court made an historic ruling against the Orthodox monopoly of local religious services by ordering religious councils in major cities to accept Reform and Conservative Jews as members.

  • Israel sent emergency aid to hurricane victims in Central America.

  • A memorial ceremony was held on the fourth anniversary of a terrorist attack on a bus in Tel Aviv that killed 22 people.

  • A Haifa judge was assaulted in court.

  • A mayoral candidate in Rosh Ha'ayin saw his name in big black letters in Israel's largest newspaper in a death notice listing the time of his funeral and the address of the shivah (mourning), only minutes before he opened his door to friends and relatives who came to pay condolence calls.

  • The attorney-general announced the decision to indict a former General Security Service (GSS) agent for his failure to prevent the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

  • Netanyahu was lambasted for his statement implying that the votes of Arab citizens count for less than those of Jews.

  • After talks with the Treasury failed, university students vowed to step up their protest campaign with a hunger strike.

  • The government denied a CTV report that Mossad agents still use Canadian passports in operations.

  • Maccabi Haifa made soccer history with the defeat of the Austrian team to reach the Euro quarterfinal.

  • Israeli researchers were involved in a major medical breakthrough in repairing damaged tissue.

  • Two Israelis were arrested for spying in Cyprus.

Chock it all up to just another week in the life of Israel, part of the daily roller coaster ride of emotional highs and lows, according to the triumphs, tribulations and tragedies of the nation. It's relentless. If Shabbat didn't exist as the official day of rest, it would have to be invented, if for nothing else, to stem the flow of news once a week.

The drama and intrigue never stop, and probably never will.

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