Behind the Headlines: Michael Jackson Visit to Israel Was Taste of Normalcy for Teens

To Israeli teen-agers, Michael Jackson’s visit here this week represented a whole lot more than a couple of rock concerts.

Long deprived of top-name entertainers — who have stayed away in the belief that Israel is a non-stop war zone — teens here have thirsted for the kind of ear-splitting concerts that their counterparts around the world take for granted.

If there is one thing Israeli youths have longed for, it is normalcy: to be able to travel wherever they want, without having to bypass countries that do not accept their passport; to be able to buy a stereo or a car at American prices without the 100 percent import tax; to have the luxury of obsessing over which college to enroll in, not which army unit to join.

And while Michael Jackson may not be anyone’s definition of normalcy, his local concerts certainly were.

Jackson was mobbed by enthusiastic Israeli fans from the moment he arrived here last Friday with a retinue of some 200 assistants, managers, bodyguards and stage hands.

Jackson devotees greeted the singer wherever he went with awe and admiration — until Saturday, when a group of fervently Orthodox Jews gave him a less-than-friendly welcome as Jackson attempted to approach the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The group, finding all the stir surrounding his appearance there unseemly, overturned tables and chairs in an effort to barricade the path of Jackson before he could reach the Wall.

Jackson ultimately turned away from the barricade to avoid a confrontation.

It was the lone sour note during his Israeli tour, which included a trip to Masada and a shopping spree in the Dizengoff Shopping Center here.

Jackson spent Monday — put aside as a day of rest between his two concerts — visiting two children’s hospitals in the Tel Aviv area: Beilinson and Assaf Harofeh.

He spent some hours visiting the bedsides of young patients in the cancer and transplant wards, seeking to cheer them up.

He was careful to divide his visits between Jewish and Arab patients.

170,000 CONCERTGOERS IN ALL

According to ticket sales and police estimates, attendance at Tuesday night’s concert in Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park — estimated at 100,000 — was even bigger than that at his first appearance Sunday, when some 70,000 fans turned out.

That’s almost equal to the number who showed up at the demonstrations for and against the Palestinian autonomy plan. And while those demonstrations were free, concertgoers paid a whopping $35 and up for the privilege of seeing Jackson live.

During Jackson’s two appearances, the fans screamed and wailed, pushed and shoved to get a peek at their idol. They smoked pot and hashish.

They even drank down cans of Jackson’s sponsor, Pepsi — the very same Pepsi that for so many years adhered to the Arab boycott against Israel.

All of a sudden, Israelis, too, were the voice of a new generation.

Jackson left Israel for Turkey at midday Wednesday, after cutting short his last appointment here — a planned visit to a basic training base for women soldiers in the center of the country.

He had hoped to record a new version of his hit song “We Are the World” with the Israel Defense Force military band, which would be incorporated into a video of various versions of the song recorded at stops around the world.

But Jackson left in a hurry, complaining at being “dogged and pestered at every step” by the scores of camera crews and photographers who followed him around.

(Contributing to this report was JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv.)

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