Preparing for a US presidential visit is a huge job. Preparing for a US presidential visit the week before Passover is an almost insurmountable task.
While in Jerusalem, the President will be staying at the historic King David hotel, which used to be the site of the British headquarters during the pre-state period. In 1946, an extremist Zionist group bombed the hotel, killing 91 people.
Officials say that security is the highest priority and the President’s delegation is taking over the whole hotel, for security reasons.
“Every effort is being made to ensure the safety of the President,” government spokesman Mark Regev told The Media Line.
But just three days after he leaves, well-heeled guests willing to pay upwards of $500 per room per night will arrive at the hotel for Passover. The food must be strictly kosher for Passover, meaning nothing leavened – no bread, no rolls, no cake. Just matza --- thin, crumbly and similar to a cracker.
The extensive cleaning preparations needed to make the hotel kosher for Passover are already underway, and by Tuesday of next week, the day before the President arrives, they will be finished.
“The hotel will already be kosher for Passover and that really limits me,” chef Michel Nabet, 43, of the King David Hotel told The Media Line. “I’m doing everything I can to make the food as good as possible.”
Nabet declined to share the menu or special purchases he has made. He cooked for the President on his last trip, when he visited Israel as a presidential candidate in 2008.
“If I remember correctly, he ordered lamb chops,” Nabet said. “I’ve also cooked for President Bush and President Putin. I’m used to it already. I just want everyone, from the President on down to leave the dining room with a smile on his face.”
Jerusalemites have gotten used to the massive traffic jams caused by any head of state visit. This time, police say they will be posting live updates on their website and have come up with a special application that can be downloaded free showing residents which roads are closed.
“We ask that the public be aware of which areas will be closed and when,” Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told The Media Line. “The public will be able to continue to make their way to work and to move in and around Jerusalem apart from the hotel area and the President’s residence.”
Rosenfeld said “more than 10,000 police will be deployed to ensure the President’s security.”
Hardest hit will be Jerusalemites who live near Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s residence. In the Jerusalem Post, Greer Fay Cashman, who lives on the same street as the Prime Minister, wrote that she had a visit from a member of Netanyahu’s security detail in advance of the Obama visit.
“The police young man told me that during the visit I could not have any visitors, including tradespeople,” she wrote. “Worse still, I was stold that any of my apartment’s side windows that look out onto the length of the street must be shuttered.” She also wrote that members of the security detail “traipse through the gardens of all the buildings on the street without asking permission.”
The President will also visit Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and possibly the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Palestinian officials declined to give details of the visit, including how the President will travel from Jerusalem to Ramallah.
The officials say that the US security guards will have primary responsibility.
“The American’s will be responsible for guarding the first circle of the US President’s security and not us,” Adnan Damiri, spokesman for the Palestinian security forces told The Media Line. “The Americans know that the Palestinian security forces are serious and professional and we have proved that before.”
Some Palestinian groups are planning demonstrations against what they believe is the pro-Israel bias of the US. “President Obama, don’t bring your smart phone to Ramallah. You won’t have mobile access to Internet. We have no 3G in Palestine”, read a banner draped across a main street.”
“President Obama once said that he doesn’t let go of his Blackberry at all,” Maher Alawneh, 31, the media consultant behind the banner. He said he hoped the President would see the difficulties Palestinians face.
President Abbas’s office in the center of Ramallah will be heavily guarded. Palestinian sources told The Media Line that Israeli, Palestinian and American security forces are holding coordination meetings to make sure there are no embarrassing incidents.