Notes from an Obama-fest reject
Not everyone in Israel were pleased to hear about U.S. President Barack Obama's visit in Israel.
Tuesday noon: with the merchants near the King David Hotel
Despite the festive atmosphere, quite a few Israelis are less than thrilled to hear President Barack Obama was on his way to Israel. The art and antique dealers near the King David Hotel say it will be hard to recover from the visit. Since Monday, a white tarpaulin 2.5 meters high has stood opposite their windows and sales plummeted 100 percent. “What are we, the third world? Do they put up a tarp like that in Paris or New York when he comes?” an employee wonders.
12:20 P.M. with the police at the airport
It’s about noon when I get out of the taxi at Terminal 1. The email I had gotten instructed me to report to Gate 8 at 9:30 A.M. Of course, I refused to get there that early. It’s anti-Israeli to get anywhere early, and so I get there just as Air Force 1 is landing. The police politely decline my request to pass. They are bored, and actually quite friendly. I asked if I can take a picture of the Israeli and American flags in the hall and they agreed. But on an upper floor stood a policeman who has not yet befriended me and was angry that I was taking pictures.
“Does he have a permit?” he shouted. When the policemen below explained, he is mollified and allows me to take pictures of the old abandoned shops. A soldier on duty at the entrance was angry at all the security. “They open roads, they close roads, they do what they want, the damn Shin Bet,” he said.
“It’s not our Shin Bet, it’s their Shin Bet,” a portly man informs him in a confident tone. He looked like the driver of a security official who had adopted the official’s tone of voice. “Obama brought 600 security people with him. We met with them,” the man said.
1:40 P.M. on the bus at the city entrance
I get on the bus to Jerusalem. Because of the scare tactics, Highway 1 was completely deserted. At the entrance to Jerusalem we see ultra-Orthodox kids on the roofs waiting for the convoy to pass and lots of soldiers and police ready to arrest them. A few policemen could be seen yelling at the kids. A woman sitting in front of me reports to someone on her cellphone: “It’s like a real action movie here − police and soldiers and helicopters.
3:30 P.M., on a bench opposite the President’s Residence
The situation is getting worse. Somehow, I figured, I’d get into the President’s Residence, but it turned out I wasn’t on the five-page list of journalists allowed in. It also turned out not to be a smart move to let my press card expire. I sit on the steps waiting for things to work out, but a few minutes later the guards decided to relegate me to a more distant location. The security people around me argue over which sub-machine gun was best and talked about being hungry.
Bored, I mull over my revenge. But meanwhile I surf the net and read an email from PR guru Rani Rahav about the fact that “this morning, King David Hotel Chef Michel Nabet personally delivered a platter of special fruits and petits fours to President Barack Obama’s suite.”
4:30 P.M. Besieged Jerusalem
I lose hope in the Obama-Peres meeting, which bureaucratic excuses have barred me from. I’m thinking about going back to Tel Aviv, but at the entrance to the access road behind the President’s Residence I see some women arguing with the police. When I get closer I hear one of the women is the daughter of the late Rabbi Mashash, the chief rabbi of Morocco, and for 25 years Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi. She and a friend were trying to get to the synagogue on time for the rabbi’s 10-year memorial service.
The police are sympathetic but do not let them pass. I helped them with their failed negotiations because with all due respect to Obama, his arrival should not prevent people from getting to memorial services for their fathers.
“The rabbi sent you, he has his emissaries,” his daughter tells me, adding proudly that she had waved to Obama’s helicopter. “With God’s help, we’ll give him a henna ceremony. I made him food. If I have to, I’ll taste it first and then give it to him,” she announces.
Meanwhile, a crew from Canadian radio shows up looking for people to interview. The rabbi’s daughter, who knows French, tells them in Hebrew and French how happy she is that Obama has come. “He shouldn’t come from their side, but not from our side either. We should all be together, Palestinians and Jews. Let him make peace and go back to his wife and children,” she said.
And maybe that’s the good thing Obama brought here, a little good spirits and optimism − a dirty word.