My AP blog on Ariel Sharon’s stroke

THURSDAY, Jan. 19, 6 p.m. local

TEL AVIV, Israel, The Old Bus Station

Israel’s first suicide bombing of 2006 was also its first in five years without Ariel Sharon at the helm. A strange reminder of Sharon’s absence came in the form of the owner of the shwarma stand targeted. His name? Aryeh Sharon.

Otherwise, the scenes from “The Mayor’s Shwarma,” in this working-class Tel Aviv neighborhood, were entirely reminiscent to those Israelis have become all too accustomed to in recent years: blots of blood and shards of shattered glass scattered on the road, armed policemen patrolling the rooftops, and the usual media frenzy that so typically unfolds.

Yet, once it became apparent there were no deaths (except the bomber), and few injuries, the gathering quickly dwindled and two hours after the explosion it was almost back to normal.

Except for those like Kiosk-owner Shlomo Alaiv, 49, who have seen this too many times before.

The old bus station has been targeted by bombers three times in the past five years. In January 2003, 23 people were killed and about 120 wounded in a double suicide bombing in the area. A year earlier, 25 people were wounded in a blast outside a cafe near the bus station.

“I’m sick of it,” said Alaiv, whose nuts and candy kiosk is located directly across the street from today’s bombing . “Maybe I should move.”

— Aron Heller

SATURDAY, Jan. 14, 8 p.m. local


“A Wonderful Country,” Israel’s top-rated satirical show, has become a barometer of the national mood over the past few years. Its return to the screen Friday night, after canceling last week’s show following Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke, marked perhaps the greatest signal of a return to normalcy in a country that has been rocked by the sudden collapse and incapacitation of its leader.

Friday’s show refrained from trivializing Sharon’s delicate health but took shots at virtually everyone else, from politicians trying to gain political capital from Sharon’s absence, to reporters trying to create drama in the absence of major developments. It even poked fun at Sharon’s doctors, especially the Hadassah hospital director, Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, whose monotonous updates several times a day have made him a media darling.

The show’s faux newscast “broke” into its “scheduled programming” several times to deliver “live updates” from the hospital, where an actor playing Mor-Yosef emerged for a smoking break and again when he stepped out of the shower.

As per the custom of Mor-Yosef, his fake persona also repeated each Hebrew statement in English.

“Listen lady,” he berated the aggressive TV anchor, “I have no new information so stop bothering me.”

The show included not-so-flattering impersonations of Benjamin Netanyahu, Shimon Peres and, in his “A Wonderful Country” debut, a clueless-looking Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The show got positive reviews on Saturday, including one from a top Hadassah executive, and another from Yoel Esteron, the deputy editor of the Yediot Ahronot daily, who spoke on Channel 2.

“I think it was the right thing to do. After a week in which the prime minister was fighting for his life, it allowed the public to release this great tension that had built up, and I think they did a great job,” he said.

— Aron Heller

FRIDAY, Jan. 13, 1 p.m. local


As Israel headed into its second weekend without Ariel Sharon as its leader, concern for the ailing prime minister began to mix with a return to routine.

On Friday, Sharon’s condition, for the first time, was knocked off the front page of some Israeli newspapers, and was “below the fold” where it appeared in others. Instead, it was back to cutthroat Israeli politics, with the previous night’s drama inside the primaries of several Israeli parties grabbing the top headlines.

Israeli TV was also back to its regular programming. On Thursday night, after a one-week absence, Israelis huddled around their TV sets to watch two-time defending European basketball Champions Macabbi Tel Aviv destroy their Croatian opponent 94-66. Army radio reported that Sharon’s family and friends who gathered by his bedside at Hadassah hospital watched the game, too.

And in the most visible sign of normalization, Israeli satire will make its comeback on Friday, too, with the top-rated show “Wonderful Country” giving its comic take on the week’s events. The show’s producers have said they would not poke fun at Sharon’s condition but “everything around it” was fair game.

One of the jokes, previewed on Israel Radio, made fun of Sharon’s political nemesis, Benjamin Netanyahu, who said in a New York Times interview this week that he and Sharon were real partners. “This is the first time in history when one person getting a stroke causes another person to forget,” the faux newscaster said.

— Aron Heller

TUESDAY, Jan. 10, 4 p.m. local

JERUSALEM, Mahane Yehuda Market

Journalists in Israel have been probing all aspects of Ariel Sharon’s life.

Sharon’s appetite, for example, is legendary, especially his love of all things meaty. So where did he get one of his favorite delicacies: the shwarma, a greasy lamb or turkey dish served in pita bread?

In the Mahane Yehuda market several roadside vendors said they had heard there was a nearby restaurant Sharon was known to visit, but couldn’t say for sure where it was.

Shalom Levi says he doesn’t know where Sharon eats shwarma, but he does know where the prime minister eats his falafel – at Levi’s stand, of course. He said Sharon normally orders two laffas – large round pitas, rolled into a wrap – filled with falafel and “all the trimmings.”

“He likes it spicy, too,” he added.

Eventually, the elusive restaurant is found. On the wall, are several pictures of Sharon, and other celebrities, eating in this place. Avi Abutbul, a manager at Shipoodea Hageffen, confirms this indeed is Sharon’s shwarma of choice.

“This is his home,” says Abutbul, flicking a cigarette. “He loves this place, it’s got everything he likes. He likes to eat well.”

He says Sharon first discovered the restaurant 10 years ago and tended to frequent it often with friends and assistants. Abutbul says it’s been two years since Sharon sat down for a meal, because of security concerns, but his people ordered out for him and picked up the shwarmas for him.

He confirmed that he had indeed handled an order from Sharon’s people on Tuesday – but the 10 shwarma sandwiches were for the prime minister’s entourage.

Mystery solved.

— Aron Heller

MONDAY, Jan. 9, 2 p.m. local

JERUSALEM, Hadassah Hospital

Sharon watch – Day Five.

The collection of journalists is starting to resemble a shantytown, with each news outlet erecting tents to protect hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment from the murky weather. Rain and rumors sprinkle intermittently.

Did he breathe on his own? Did he really twitch his right arm?

The affirmative answers arrive at 5 p.m. with the evening update of the doctors. This time it included a surprise appearance by Prof. Felix Umansky, Sharons surgeon, who slowly and deliberately answered reporters’ questions in his Argentinean-accented English and Hebrew.

As time passes, though, a routine develops. Until this evening, Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef has been the only hospital official to formally face the media. Hospital officials say that has become the policy, in order to convey a consistent message. Barring unexpected developments, he holds three daily briefings: a morning, noon and evening session.

In between, the rumor mill is on full tilt, as people partake in a favorite pastime – speculation.

From the taxi driver who promises Sharon will be “back on his feet” in a few days, to the stroke expert who predicts Sharon will be, at the very least, “severely incapacitated.” It seems as if everyone has a take on Sharon’s predicament.

In the meantime, some touching scenes unfold outside the hospital.

A bearded Jewish mystic with a large, round skullcap hands out specially made CDs containing prayers for the recovery of “Ariel, son of Dvora Hia,” the Hebrew name of his mother, Vera.

A man and two children arrive to hang up a large, painted sign saying “Ariel Sharon! There is more to do. Please wake up.

A woman delivers the letters, and pictures, of local school children sending their best wishes to Sharon and his sons, Omri and Gilad.

As the final briefing of the day concludes, the media mayhem subsides. Several crews will remain here overnight, where they will snuggle into camping tents seeking refuge from a cold, Jerusalem night.

— Aron Heller

SATURDAY, Jan. 7, 9 a.m. local


Worshippers walk to services every Sabbath in this modern-Orthodox neighborhood. But this time, something is different. The normally quiet street has turned into a mass of metal barriers, tinted-windowed vehicles and armed guards, as the block surrounding acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s home is encircled with security.

A young woman passes by the house and shakes her head in disbelief.

On any other Saturday, Olmert’s house would look like any other. Today it reminds everyone of Israel’s crisis following Ariel Sharon’s massive stroke.

Men wearing skullcaps congregate outside neighborhood synagogues where they talk about the only topic in town – Sharon’s health.

Many opposed him. All say they pray for his recovery.

“We are Jews,” says Ilan Bachar. “We have no hate in our hearts. We pray for him even if we disagreed with him.”

— Aron Heller

FRIDAY, Jan. 6, 7 p.m. local


Cabbie Shlomo Avital makes his last drive from Hadassah on his way home for the Sabbath. He’s not much different than those he has driven today, reflecting on the life of Sharon, a man he’s met twice and deeply respects.

“He was first of all a person, and that’s what people loved about it,” he said. “I didn’t always agree with him, but I always admired him. He’s the last of the Mohicans.”

— Aron Heller

FRIDAY, Jan. 6, 2 p.m. local


Sharon is going into surgery again after complications in a CAT scan. As if an omen, the skies suddenly become overcast.

The mood is darker, too. Hospital officials are edgier, less inclined to talk. The security is tighter, now no cellphones, or recording devices are allowed inside.

The prime minister’s chain-smoking advisers shuffle nervously in the main lobby. Even Raanan Gissin, Sharon’s energetic spokesman, seems downcast.

Now there are more journalists than ever: Hebrew, English, Arabic, Russian and other languages mixing in the air as live reports are broadcast to the entire world.

At 6 p.m., Mor-Yosef returns to announce that Sharon has survived his second brain operation.

— Aron Heller

FRIDAY, Jan. 6, 7 a.m. local


His eyes baggy, shoulders stooped and hands nervously clasped, Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef emerges again to face the snapping cameras and the eager reporters. Hadassah’s director delivers a brief statement in Hebrew, followed by one in English, that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has survived the night, before quickly disappearing again into the hospital.

It’s a drill that has been repeated several times since Sharon arrived about 33 hours ago after suffering a massive stroke. In this time, Mor-Yosef has become more than just the face of the hospital, he has become a window to the world, a seemingly shy doctor uneasy with the task bestowed upon him of conveying the somber news.

The contrast between the interior and exterior of the hospital is striking. Outside, a major media frenzy unfolds. Inside, an eerie quiet, with patients, visitors and medical staff going about their daily business. Aside from the barricaded ward on the seventh floor, the only reminder of the drama unfolding around comes from the televisions blaring live broadcasts in the lobbies of each floor.

In the basement, some 25 religious men pray as usual at the hospital synagogue. Only today, many said, the man lying unconscious seven floors above was in the back of their minds.

It seemed so for everyone in the hospital. Sharon’s condition has been the water-cooler talk here ever since he arrived, with doctors, patients and visitors speculating about the status of the prestigious guest.

The seventh floor of the hospital, where Sharon lies, is a virtual fortress. with all entrances sealed, armed policemen and guards evicting anyone not permitted there.

— Aron Heller

© 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy.