The lights in a large meeting room of the Jerusalem Hilton Hotel dimmed and on a screen in the front of the room the familiar sights and sounds from a summer past began to unfold.
Artillery shells fell on a city, throwing up huge pillars of smoke. Tanks and other armored vehicles moved through the streets in a dense cloud of dust. Civilians, the victims of war, stood dazed against a backdrop of rubble.
From the soundtrack accompanying the pictures, the voice of Tom Fenton of CBS News was heard. The Israeli Army's advance through southern Lebanon, he said, "has left a trail of death and destruction."
It has been almost a year since a CBS camera crew recorded those scenes and the network beamed them, along with Fenton's report, to millions of American homes. But here, in the capital of the victorious army, the war--or more precisely the war over how the war was reported by the world's media--goes on.
For three days last week, dozens of journalists, academics and public figures discussed the subject here at a workshop sponsored by the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations of Hebrew University. They spoke of many conflicts--the Falklands, Iran-Iraq, the United States in Vietnam--but most of all of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the siege of Beirut.
Just a few blocks away, at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Israeli and U.S. officials were putting in place the final details of the Lebanon troop withdrawal agreement that the Israeli Cabinet later approved.
It was a milestone in the history of Israel's most controversial war, the first in which its Army stormed through densely populated areas of an Arab country and laid siege to a major international capital, all recorded by the ubiquitous presence of the television camera. They won the war on the battlefields of Lebanon, but many Israeli officials still express bitterness and confusion over why they lost in the larger battle for world opinion. They are convinced that it was not a fair fight.
"Especially the television coverage in some respects was not always accurate," Yaacov Levy, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official, said. "It fell short in accuracy, depth, analysis and fairness."
The opinion that news coverage of the war in Lebanon was anti-Israel was not shared by many of the journalists at the conference. But it is accepted among Israeli officialdom, and one senior official suggested that in the future Israel might reassess its attitude and policies toward news coverage and information flow.
Television coverage of the war "was absolutely and completely distorted and it caused us irreparable damage," David Kimche, the director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, told the conference. And because of this, he said, some "painful questions" had to be posed.
"Should we, as a democratic country, try to limit this damage?" He continued: "Should we or any other democratic country take steps against people who are consistently hostile to our country? Is there any form of punishment for those who vilify, castigate and distort?"
Kimche added: "Until now we have consciously decided not to take steps because of our way of life and our liberal attitudes. But this question has to be asked. The war in Lebanon proved what a tremendous weapon this is and what tremendous damage it can do. There is a limit in even democratic countries to the extent you can allow damage to be done."
Kimche said he personally opposed any steps against the media because it was more important for Israel to "maintain freedom of expression," but the threat in his message was clear.
The main theme of the conference seemed to be that television has become a major presence on many of the world's battlefields. As Kimche said, "today there is television, and television dominates any war."
"The modern strategist must take into account a new weapon," Shimon Peres, the leader of the opposition Labor Alignment, said at a conference luncheon. "When the television screen is covered by blood stains, emotion counts more than strategy."
In recognition of the importance of television in shaping world public opinion, the Israeli Foreign Ministry for about three years has been collecting video tapes of news broadcasts from the United States, Western Europe, South America and Australia. Levy, deputy director of the ministry's information division, said the collection includes hundreds of hours of tape on the war in Lebanon alone.
For this week's conference, Levy had to shorten his standard presentation on the news coverage of the war, which takes two hours and includes excerpts from about 25 television broadcasts. Its main message was that Israel is subjected to harsher treatment in the world's media than are other countries.
Lifting brief excerpts from their context in longer news reports, Levy contrasted Fenton's description of the "trail of death and destruction" left by the Israeli Army in Lebanon with the same correspondent's account, two weeks earlier, of the final British assault on Stanley in the Falklands. The British troops, Fenton reported, advanced with "courage and precision" as they "probed enemy lines."
Israeli officials at the conference made no attempt to conceal their envy of the British handling of the Falklands conflict. Fought in one of the remotest corners of the world, the situation of the war allowed the British government to impose the strictest kind of censorship, particularly of television pictures that could have disturbed public opinion at home and around the world.
Gabbi Sheffer, a Hebrew University political scientist and one of the organizers of the conference, said one reason it was decided to hold the sessions now was that he and others are concerned about what they see as a drift away from Israel's traditional ideals of openness and freedom of information, in part because of the Lebanon war.
"If they ever implement the ideas David Kimche was talking about," he said, "it's going to be a different place."