If my plumbing or electricity goes on the blink, I can’t call a repairman during
US President Barack Obama’s three-day visit to Jerusalem next
That’s because I live on the same street as Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu’s official state residence, and security for Obama is much more
stringent than for any of his predecessors.
The polite young man from
Netanyahu’s security detail who knocked on my door this week during a routine
check of residents told me that during the visit, I could not have any visitors,
Worse still, I was told that any of my
apartment’s side windows that look out onto the length of the street must be
“I can’t do that,” I explained to the man standing in my
doorway. “I suffer from claustrophobia, and I must have light and open
“So draw the curtains,” he said by way of compromise.
don’t have any curtains, for the same reason.”
He shook his head, a
perplexed frown crossing his forehead.
“I’ll have to talk to them about
it,” he said, without specifying who “them” were.
Frankly I wondered if
this order to close the shutters was legal in a country that claims to be
democratic. Surely my neighbors and I can do as we like in our own
In fact, aside from trampling on our democratic rights, the order
didn’t make sense.
The security people long ago created something that
looks like Fort Knox at Netanyahu’s end of the street. In addition, whenever the
prime minister has special guests, a tent goes up outside the entrance to the
house on Smolenskin Street, and sometimes another goes up on Balfour Road, so
that guests are completely secluded from passers-by.
Given the stringency
of security for the Obama visit, the tents are bound to be in place. So why is
there a need to close the shutters? There’s no way that even the best of snipers
could see a target if a car carrying a VIP were to drive into the
The security people know this, but perhaps they are operating on a
The young man tried to be helpful, assuring
me that residents in the area who carried a proper ID card with the slip of
paper testifying to their address would be permitted to pass.
won’t. I’ve had experience with this before,” I told him. “Our lives are made
miserable, and unless we start to scream and shout and one of the security
people finally decides to escort us across the road, we can’t pass.”
had no control over that, he said, but gave me the number of his cellphone in
case I ran into trouble.
Every now and again, the prime minister’s
neighbors are visited by someone from his security detail, informing them that a
security exercise will be taking place later in the week, or checking that the
people listed as living at certain addresses are still there. Sometimes they
double-check the ID and telephone number to be absolutely sure that the person
who responds to the knock is really who he or she purports to be.
some reason, the detailed list does not include mug shots alongside the names,
something that would make the security personnel’s job much easier.
people object,” explained the young man.
“But you don’t need to ask,” I
told him. “The Interior Ministry has copies of the mug shots of everyone who has
an ID card or an Israeli passport.”
“We couldn’t do that,” he
I didn’t pursue the point, though it’s worth noting that members
of the security detail traipse through the gardens of all the buildings on the
street at least once a day without asking permission, and sometimes check the
cars and the motorcycles parked outside, even when they know they belong to
They also patrol inside the grounds of the Terra Sancta
College on the corner of Keren Hayesod Street, and conscientiously check garbage
bins inside and outside all the buildings in the immediate area.
enough; the prime minister’s safety is an important factor. But what happens
when security interferes with democracy?
The people living on the same street as
the prime minister and the streets that run between the King David Hotel and the
Prime Minister’s Residence are already used to the area being cordoned off
sometimes to vehicular traffic – and even pedestrians, on certain streets – but
the latest decree crosses all bounds.