WHITE HOUSE NOTEBOOK: Obama, the tourist, up close
On his first official visit to Israel as president, he has allowed TV crews with live microphones to accompany him at virtually every stop in Israel, giving a rare and fascinating inside glimpse.
President Barack Obama has permitted TV crews with live microphones to accompany him at virtually every stop in Israel, giving a rare and fascinating glimpse at the joking and small talk that takes place on the sidelines of official visits.
In Jerusalem on Thursday, Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Israel Museum, where they examined the Dead Sea Scrolls. Reading a passage from Isaiah from a facsimile of a scroll, Netanyahu explained: "It says, 'Nations should not lift swords unto nations and they shall know war no more."
The phrase forms the lyrics to a popular Hebrew folk song often used as a rallying call for peace.
Obama marveled that the Hebrew language had not changed much over the centuries.
Minutes later, during a tour of a technology exhibit, the two leaders stopped by a display of a robotic snake that can burrow into rubble during rescue operations. The three-foot contraption wriggled and separated and reared up. "Let me just say, my wife would not like this," Obama said, grinning.
At a brain imaging display, a scientist explained that the first step in studying brain function is taking accurate measurements of the brain. "That presupposes there is something to measure, right?" Netanyahu joked.
Developers of a driver assistance device that detects road obstacles described how their Mobileye protected passengers by sensing a car's proximity to other cars.
"Pedestrians, too?" Obama asked. "Pedestrians, cars...," one of the developers replied.
"Dogs?" Obama wondered. "Not dogs," came the reply.
As Obama prepared to meet with the Palestinians, Israel's president delivered a stern warning: Don't ruin your appetite.
Obama was taking his leave from Israeli President Shimon Peres during the technology tour when he made note of the state dinner planned at Peres' residence later that evening, after Obama returned from talks with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank.
"So I'll see you this evening?" Obama asked Peres.
"Yes, don't eat too much in Ramallah," retorted Peres, prompting Obama to laugh.
In the most emotional moment of the tech tour, Obama and Netanyahu encountered a Druze Israeli war veteran and a U.S. army veteran, both paralyzed from the waist down. Both demonstrated how they were able to walk with the help of crutches and a computerized exoskeleton that supported their legs as they moved.
Obama gave both of them presidential "challenge coins," used to recognize veterans for their service.
The army veteran, Theresa Hannigan, a 60-year-old woman from Long Island, N.Y., was learning how to use the motorized aides, called the ReWalk, at the Bronx V.A. Hospital. She implored Obama to help the device obtain FDA approval. Her voice breaking, Hannigan stood straight and hugged Obama.
The system is made by an Israeli company called Argo Medical Technologies. Its exoskeleton suit uses computers and motion sensors to allow paraplegics to walk with motorized legs that power knee and hip movement.
Obama offered a personal reflection. "Michelle's father had MS, so he used crutches until he was probably 45, 50, then got a wheelchair."
Netanyahu replied: "This would have given him a different life."