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Keeping Score

tel aviv, Israel -- If any of the citizens of this insane country still entertained doubts concerning our shaky emotional condition, they were dispelled last Saturday night. On March 2, as on most Saturday nights, Channel 2, Israel’s most popular television station, broadcasts a soccer game. Immediately following a terror attack a few weeks ago, the station continued with its regular programming, including commercials, and drew a fine from the national broadcasting authority. So last weekend, during the terror attack in Jerusalem, the station heads got the message and began immediately to broadcast updates on the attack. However, so it wouldn‘t deprive its soccer fans or lose ratings, Channel 2 broadcast updates from the scene of the attack on a split screen.

On one half, it showed scenes of bloody victims, with a car burning in the background on a narrow Jerusalem street; on the other, it continued to broadcast the football game. That way, concerned citizens could have their cake and eat it too. On the left side of the screen, they could see a hospital director informing the press that an 18-month-old baby was among the victims, without missing Haifa’s Croatian megastar kicking the ball just wide of the goal on the right. From the scene of the terror attack came a report of five fatalities, but the Haifa stadium did not lag far behind -- and a third goal was scored. From Ramallah came reports of Palestinians celebrating the attack in the streets, and from Haifa, of fans celebrating in the stands. A policeman, standing near the burning car, said the horrific terror attack surprised the security forces, while on the green soccer field, there was also a surprise -- the league underdog defeated the outgoing champion. Well, what do you know?

The bizarre split screen seemed surrealistic. But it is not surrealism -- it is hyperrealism, hardcore reality. This is a country that has long become indifferent to the pain of its own people, to say nothing of that of its enemies. Just a few days ago, two pregnant women, one Israeli and the other Palestinian, were shot -- without attracting undue attention. Incidentally, both managed to give birth to healthy children, who with a bit of luck will grow up in another 15 years or so to either get shot or blown up.

Israeli television is no more than a mirror of the split and very impervious society in which we live. For those who really insist on the latest news, here is the latest report. And for those who would rather forgo that dubious pleasure, here are a few more soccer moves that are out of this world. In the broadcast, as time passed, the body count grew to 9, while on the other side of the screen, the dream team from Kiryat Gat kept up its side of the game, and by the time the final whistle blew, the goal count had gone up, too.

Etgar Keret is the author of The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God and Other Stories. This piece was translated from Hebrew by Rachel Avital.