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Deja Vu
by Judy Lash Balint
Israel National news radio
June 6, 2002

You know that disquieting sensation where you're sure you've been in a place or experienced a situation before? That's what it felt like today to open up the morning newspaper. Headshots of 12 of the 17 young victims of yesterday's awful bus burning smiled out in color from the front page. Courtesy of the IDF spokesman's office, the youthful faces of the kids we call soldiers, graced the pages of every Israeli daily. A few appear in uniform, but most pictures look like high school graduation photos or family snapshots taken during happy moments.

Corporal; sergeant; staff sergeant, it says before their names, but we all know these are 19 and 20 year old kids who were heading back to base on a Tuesday morning, much like 19 and 20 year olds would be heading off to college in many other countries in the world. Once again, evil has struck Israel's youth. Just one year ago, we thought we'd reached the pinnacle of hatred as 21 youngsters were murdered waiting to get into the Dolphinarium disco. Then, just last week, we thought we'd seen the most heart-rending photo of a grandmother and her 18 month old granddaughter, slaughtered the day before while eating ice cream in Petach Tikva. In between, there was 5 month old Yehuda Shoham, hit in the head with a rock while riding in his father's car; four members of one Jerusalem family wiped out in an instant at Sbarros while buying pizza, and hundreds of other faces staring at us out of the morning paper.

The painful procession of funerals will start today, even though most of yesterday's victims were burned beyond recognition. And for the family of 16 year old Islamikaze, Hamza Samudi from Jenin, the celebrations will begin.

The media circus won't be far behind. CNN has taken to filming interviews with the mothers of Arab homicide perpetrators, in a manner that would make advertisers drop off like flies in any other context. In their coverage of the Petach Tikva murders, CNN excelled even their own dastardly reputation for skewed journalism. The attack took place on Monday May 27. CNN waited until Friday, May 31, to film an interview with the bereaved parents, Lior and Chen Keinan. In a live segment aired on CNN USA, the Keinans delivered their message to the American people. The footage scheduled to go out on CNN International, and seen by a far larger audience in countries all over the world besides the US, never made it to the screen. Instead, viewers were treated to the interview with an Islamikaze mother, lauding the deeds of her son.

Only the next day, was an edited portion of the Keinan interview aired. When called on the carpet by Israel's Foreign Ministry, CNN's initial reaction was " no comment." Only after an avalanche of consumer outcry, did the Atlanta based station issue a tepid apology.

On Israel's media watchdog TV program, Documedia, last night, Government Press Office (GPO) director Danny Seaman noted that complaints from his office and the Foreign Ministry to CNN are sloughed off as "propagandistic," "one-sided." Fellow panelist on the show, Yossi Olmert, a former head of the GPO, blasted CNN by pointing out that Bob Miller, a Jewish, CNN correspondent during the first intifada, had issued explicit instructions to remove the mezuzah on the CNN office door. He claimed that he had also seen Miller walking around town with a T shirt proclaiming, "The Intifada will Win."

Recently published data about CNN's ratings have assuaged pro-Israel activists a little. Turns out that on an average night, only 620,000 viewers in the US tune into the Ted Turner station. Those figures are far surpassed by Fox News.

Another side of the media debate here is how much publicity should be given to intelligence and IDF warnings of "mega-attacks." One school of thought is that the public has the right to know, and the media has the obligation to pass on information. Another is that there's little the average citizen can do with the information, and the warnings just create an even greater sense of tension in the country. "Such a warning is like a terror attack, without the attack," claims terrorism expert Boaz Ganor. It fuels the goals of the terrorists, which is to instill panic and fear.

Meantime, preparations go on for just such an eventuality. A few days ago, police, firefighters and emergency personnel staged a simulated airplane attack against a skyscraper. The exercise took place in the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim, and was dedicated to New York police and firefighters. Israeli and US flags flew from the firefighting equipment and many of the Israeli personnel wore NYC Fire Department patches. At the conclusion of the simulation, the Israelis observed a moment of silence in honor of their New York counterparts who fell in the World Trade Center tragedy.

Today, 60,000 Jerusalemites were summoned to the Teddy stadium to test the speed with which gas masks could be updated and distributed.

But the best test of Israeli society is the extent to which life does go on in the face of the most trying circumstances. At a Jerusalem seminar on combating terror last week, Ganor, the terrorism expert, emphasized that there's only one winning strategy against terror: "Don't play the game." It's national unity and the will to maintain normal life that will ultimately prevail, he said.

Indeed, downtown Jerusalem is back to life. The absence of tourists is felt in those businesses catering to them, but regular business is on its way back. Cafes, guarded and fenced, are mostly at least half full. The Israel festival is underway, despite cancellations by some overseas artists, and tonight, the country-wide Hebrew Book Week kicks off.

Lectures are full--two I attended earlier this week were SRO. This afternoon, another in the series of Living History of Jerusalem Neighborhood pageants will bring the ancient village of Ein Kerem alive with vignettes from its colorful past.

Most of the country is fixated on the Mondiale, the international soccer championship, and we even have our first case of Mad Cow disease (sounds too hilarious in Hebrew--parah meshugaat!!)

Mostly, we're just hoping and praying not to have any more episodes of Deja Vu.