Jerusalem scrambles to prepare for Obama visit
Whole swaths of the newly clean city will be closed during the U.S. president's two-day visit to accommodate his entourage, foreign journalists and hundreds of other guests.
Preparations for U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Israel are on a scale unprecedented in this country – bigger, for example, than for the French president or the British prime minister, according to the Foreign Ministry.
Jerusalem is bracing for major interruptions to its daily flow: Entire areas of the city will be closed, others partially closed, and unprecedented traffic jams are expected. For the duration of Obama's visit, the city will experience a quasi-curfew from Wednesday to Friday.
The unparalleled security arrangements in Jerusalem include the closure of all Hebrew University facilities on the Givat Ram campus, which is next to the Prime Minister's Office. Partial closures and restricted movement will be in effect in the area around the King David Hotel and other hotels where the president and his entourage will be staying. Additionally, Route 1, the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, will be closed.
Israel's air space will be closed for about an hour prior to Obama's landing Wednesday afternoon at Ben-Gurion International Airport. Acting manager of the airport, Shmuel Zakai, says that although the skies will be closed to air traffic, the handling of passengers will continue as usual at the terminal, concurrent to official events at the airport.
Transport planes are expected to arrive carrying all of the security equipment, including armored cars to transport the U.S. president to and from Jerusalem. Large parts of the airport will become "sterile areas," and Special Forces, including snipers, will be posted in strategic spots to secure the official reception.
Preparations for the visit included a broad mobilization of manpower for both security and hospitality. Various facilities, vehicles and transportation services were leased around the city in addition to hotel rooms secured for hundreds of guests and food that had to be organized for hundreds of police officers arriving in Jerusalem.
Obama will be staying at the King David Hotel, where he stayed as a senator in 2008. The hotel has hosted a number of famous dignitaries, including former U.S. President George W. Bush, former French President Nicholas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and more.
The hotel has 233 guestrooms, 37 luxury suites, a presidential suite, a royal suite and a Jerusalem suite. The royal suite, the largest and most luxurious, is 160 square meters in size and costs about NIS 19,000 per night. The hotel will be closed to the general public during the president's visit. In light of this, the hotel arranged for food supplies to be delivered last week since food suppliers will be unable to enter the hotel complex during Obama's visit. The White House chose the nearby Inbal Hotel to host the fleet of media correspondents accompanying Obama.
The Menachem Begin Heritage Center in the heart of the capital was leased for four days by the Government Press Office to host foreign journalists and to be used as a communications center. About 150 American journalists are expected to arrive to cover Obama's visit, in addition to the U.S. correspondents regularly posted in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Fifteen journalists will arrive on the president's plane, Air Force One. On the eve of the visit, the press office in Jerusalem will hold a special reception for journalists. In Jerusalem they estimate that at least 100 additional guests will be included in the American delegation accompanying the president's entourage.
Aside from Jerusalem residents, merchants around the Hebrew University campus on Givat Ram and the King David Hotel will suffer the most from being forced to close their businesses for three days. At this point, they are not expected to receive compensation for lost revenue.
Perhaps as something of token appreciation for their patience, Jerusalem residents will enjoy a cleaner city than normal, thanks to the American guest of honor.
"In honor of the visit we scrubbed the highways and the city streets, and hung about 1,000 Israeli, U.S. and Jerusalem Municipality flags," said Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat. "We will illuminate the walls of the Old City with decorative lighting during the entire visit, at night too – so that the president will be able to see the walls and the beauty of Jerusalem from his hotel window, and the many media teams will be able to broadcast from here on the backdrop of the illuminated walls, which will be exposed to the entire world."