The all-night vigil outside Hadassah [pg. 2]

Around midnight between Wednesday and Thursday, the media vigil outside the emergency room at Hadassah University Medical Center became a death watch. The last optimistic illusions that also this time, the stroke would prove to be minor had faded away, the news that was trickling out was dire and the reporters began expecting an announcement of the worst at any moment. Everyone was convinced that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wasn't going to make in through the night. Many were reminded of a similar scene outside Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv a decade earlier. But this time, all the cabinet secretary said was that the prime ministerial responsibilities had been transferred to Ehud Olmert, nothing else. All through the long hours of the night, after the initial reports that Sharon had suffered a major hemorrhage and had been rushed into the operation, no new details came out. Radio and television reporters did their best to fill their broadcasts but had nothing new to add. Neither had Sharon's veteran spokesman Ra'anan Gissin who circulated in the courtyard briefing the television crews. The cameras were divided into three unofficial sections, one consisting the Israeli channels, the next the English-speaking world and finally the Arab channels, which were out in force and seemed to be almost always on the air. Gissin gave them special attention. After 2 a.m., anxiety gave way to exhaustion and black humor; photographers began planning where to stand during the upcoming state funeral and some of the reporters began trickling away. All the same, whenever one of Sharon's aides was seen outside, a commotion rose and the cameras stormed the fence in the hope of an announcement. By 3 a.m., it was obvious that, as one of the reporters put it, "he's not going to die tonight." On the radio, the anchor was reading out the headlines of the first morning papers: "Fighting for his life." The morning news updates brought most of the press back to the square at dawn, and their numbers swelled as the rumors that Sharon was already dead began swirling around. Once again they were in for a long wait, and the rumors dissipated for lack of new information. Only a couple of hours later did Hadassah director- general Shlomo Mor-Yosef come out to officially quash the rumors. At this stage, it wasn't really necessary. When it became clear in the evening that Sharon would remain unconscious at least for another 24 hours and no change was expected until then, a general exodus started. What had started as a death-watch by the entire press corps had become a roster of skeleton crews.