Slim pickings for foreign media circus

bush in israel graphic  (photo credit: )
bush in israel graphic
(photo credit: )
From the top of a steep incline on one of Jerusalem's main thoroughfares, visiting journalists surveyed a deserted city on Wednesday. Normally a quagmire for cross-city motorists and a bustling walkway for pedestrians, Rehov Keren Hayesod was empty save the chilly police officers and lone packs of journalists wandering in search of local life. Shopkeepers had expected a boom in sales from the visiting delegations - more than 300 foreign press crews were flown in to Israel to cover the visit of US President George W. Bush, who reportedly brought nearly a thousand of his own staff to accompany him on his week-long Middle East tour. However, the press largely kept to the hotels and press centers that had been erected in their honor. "The only people we've had in today are security folk who are tired of their own coffee," said one waiter at Cup o' Joe, a coffee shop directly across from the Dan Panorama Hotel where the vast majority of the journalists are staying. The inside of the shop was filled with clandestine talk from local police and visiting secret service agents, who viewed one another from respective booths. The press also formed a neat divide between foreign and local crews, with most of the visiting journalists holing up at the Dan Panorama and local reporters camped out at a press center at the Jerusalem Municipality building. "I spent all morning looking for a bit of color, but all the locals are in hiding," complained Ji, a Barcelona-based radio correspondent who flew in to cover the presidential visit. "I understand that the police wanted to make the city safe for Bush, but they've sanitized it to the point where none of us have any color to add." While right-ring activists had planned a number of protests, most were called off or delayed due to the heavy police guard in the center of town. Two lone men, one dressed as a Palestinian terrorist and the second as an IDF soldier, enacted a brief protest outside the city's Great Synagogue, calling on Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to cease any discussion on the future release of Palestinian prisoners. Photographers and reporters from dozens of media outlets swarmed around the two men, although most eventually gave up and took pictures of one another instead. "This is the biggest non-story I've ever covered. Bush can't get attention back home anymore, so he visits here," complained one journalist from a major American television network. "They call us the visiting circus, but last time I checked, a circus was fun and had some sign of life."