Living with the checkpoints on Olmert's ultra-secure street

On Jerusalem's Rehov Kaf Tet Benovember on Sunday afternoon, a blond, middle-aged woman rolled down her car window while passing a checkpoint near Rehov Tel Hai. "Will there always be checkpoints here?" she asked a Border Police guard, wrinkling her face disapprovingly. "Maybe," the guard shrugged, "if he becomes prime minister." This is Ehud Olmert's historic Old Katamon neighborhood, where residents, schoolchildren and employees have witnessed some major changes on this street since powers were temporarily transferred to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's deputy last week. There are now checkpoints or guard posts on and near Kaf Tet Benovember. In front of Olmert's impressive home, Shin Bet agents and bodyguards in dark clothes stand watch underneath a blue canopy, scrutinizing passersby. The sidewalks near his home and at least one checkpoint are buffered with temporary metal railings. Residents and visitors say the checkpoints sometimes cause delays and even occasional arguments, but most see the changes as minor inconveniences and are taking them in their stride. Olmert's neighbors will have to grin and bear these inconveniences at least until the Olmerts, who sold their home on Rehov Kaf Tet BeNovember last year, relocate to their new abode in the German Colony, not far from Old Katamon. Tomer Segev, who lives about 60 meters from Olmert's house, said he left his home about 15 minutes early on Sunday to head to work because he anticipated traffic problems on his street. He later realized it wasn't necessary. "On Friday, there were a lot of cars, but this morning it was okay," he said. Rafi Hamo, who was waiting to pick up his child from the Henrietta Szold School on Sunday afternoon, said he simply makes a different turn when approaching the school to avoid the checkpoints. "It's a situation that we have gotten used to," he said from his car. "It creates a problem but there isn't anything that can be done." Outside the Tali Beit Hinuch school, located on the same street quite close to Olmert's residence, two teachers said they hadn't really felt much of a change. "It doesn't bother me," said Asia, a teacher with a Russian accent who declined to give her last name. "I am ready to understand this and I have to understand it. I think all of us should." Her colleague, Idit, added: "I think it also compliments us, that we have a neighbor like this, and to have those that worry about guarding" the area. But 12-year-old Guy Mor said that while he believes the checkpoints are important, he is bothered by them. They cause delays and also change the appearance of the neighborhood, he said. "It doesn't look good," said the Beit Hinuch student. "It's a small place. It's not appropriate to bring in weapons and the army." On Sunday afternoon, a border policeman was looking into vehicles at the intersection of Kaf Tet BeNovember and Tel Hai but hardly stopping them. The guard, Shmuel, said that not everyone was able to enter the area. Arabs that do not have a reason to be in the area would be turned away, he said. "If there was a problem with Jews, also Jews wouldn't be able to pass," he said. Uri Ben-Zion, a counselor at Beit Hatzayar School who was walking down the street with one of his students, said while it is preferable to enter and exit the neighborhood without checkpoints, the changes were not causing great hardships. "Just the opposite, I think it improves security for the whole area, for the schools," he said. "We feel more protected, more secure. It's not only bad."