Only in Jerusalem: Bushed out

When someone tells you it can always get worse, believe them.

Bush galilee 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bush galilee 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
It was my misfortune to marry a man who lived only three buildings away from what was to become the prime minister's official residence. When I met my late husband Dan Landau, the house on the corner of Rehov Smolenskin and Balfour Street had been lived in by foreign ministers but not by prime ministers. The official prime minister's residence was on Rehov Ben-Maimon and the last prime minister to live there was Golda Meir. After Yitzhak Rabin became prime minister the first time around, it was presumed that he and his wife would move into Golda's old abode, but no - the place was too dilapidated for Leah Rabin. So the Rabins moved into the present day Prime Minister's Residence in what was initially seen as a temporary measure. Of course nobody could foresee at the time that Rabin wouldn't last a full term and that he would resign over the fact that his wife continued to maintain a bank account in the United States, which was illegal at the time. New elections were held and Menachem Begin became prime minister. He and his wife Aliza also moved into the house on the corner. Having the Rabins and the Begins as neighbors was not so bad, even when there were large-scale demonstrations. Police and other security personnel watched, but didn't interfere too much. The demonstrations in themselves, regardless of the cause, were much more exciting than they are today because demonstrators were permitted to congregate on both Balfour Street and Rehov Smolenskin, and were not forced, like today, to go around the corner, to where the prime minister might be able to hear but not see them. Things began to change after Yitzhak Shamir came into office in 1986. Although Shamir absolutely insisted on going for his nightly walk around the block, with only two - at most three - bodyguards, the security detail became a little uneasy about the vulnerability of the house and put up a pergola in place of the low gate, so that anyone standing across the road could no longer look into the house. With each successive prime minister, new security features were added, so that today not only the residence but half the street has become a fortress. Having to cross the road because one of the accordion gates was closed was annoying, but didn't really impede my progress. What was and is more annoying is having to prove over and over again when someone gives me a ride home via Balfour Street that I actually do live on Rehov Smolenskin. While the street has frequently been sealed off temporarily for top-ranking visitors, I had absolutely no trouble getting into the house on the corner when King Hussein and Queen Noor of Jordan came to offer their condolences to Leah Rabin after her husband's assassination. But last week, during the visit to Israel by US President George W. Bush, almost every time I wanted to get into my own street, I had to produce proof that I lived there. On the day Bush arrived, I covered his visit to Beit Hanassi, where on two separate occasions I was less than three meters away from him. On both occasions security men had given him breathing space and the atmosphere was fairly relaxed. But Bush's next appointment was with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the prime minister's official residence. I knew that it would be pointless trying to go home via Balfour Street, so I walked via Rehov Aza toward the newly named Jonathan Pollard Square on the corner of Rehov Rambam and King George Avenue. However just as I passed Rehov Arlosoroff, I was stopped by a border policeman. This was really annoying because I had two stories to write and the deadline was fast approaching. I got really angry with the border policeman, who calmly replied: "I think these rules are stupid too. There's a way of doing things without inconveniencing the public. I'll see if I can get you through." Luckily, I had the Foreign Ministry's booklet with Bush's itinerary with me, and was able to produce it along with my press card to give credence to what I told the police officer, who after speaking to his superior finally let me through. Even though I had been permitted through a cordoned-off area, I was asked three times on the short walk home to produce my ID card as proof of where I lived. Even then, a policewoman was called to escort me to my building. Like the border policeman, she too understood my frustration and irritation and said that the whole security situation had not been properly thought out. The problem of street access was bad enough without the security staff erecting two huge projectors across the road from my apartment. One projector floodlit my front balcony, the other shone through my kitchen. If I faced the balcony or the kitchen window I was momentarily blinded. On Thursday afternoon, after surveying my almost empty refrigerator, I decided to go down the street to the supermarket. Wrong timing: Bush was coming back from Bethlehem and several streets in the area were sealed off for some 20 minutes before police allowed people to pass through. Finally when the Bush convoy crossed the intersection and made it to King David Street, the barriers were moved aside and I was able to go to the supermarket. Apparently, though, I stayed there just a little too long because the barriers had been partially restored and it was impossible to get back into my street. Again I was asked to produce my ID, but this time I refused. Laden with groceries, I was not about to plonk everything down to look for the ID, especially since the man in charge had seen me the night before and when I was on my way to the supermarket. "I've had it with you guys," I shouted. "I'm sick of this intrusion on my privacy. I'm sick of being denied freedom of movement. This is supposed to be a democracy. I'm not going to show my ID and I am going home." I pushed aside the barrier and began walking. The man in charge called for a policewoman. She too had seen me the previous day and approached me with a grin on her face. "Why are you so angry?" she asked. "Because I paid a whopping big arnona bill just three days ago and I'm not allowed into my own street. It's a tiny street. What does it take to learn the identities of the people who live here? I have outlasted every prime minister on this street since Rabin was here the first time around and I'll still be here when Olmert goes." "You're right," she said and laughed as she escorted me to the entrance to my apartment. In the meantime, I think neighbors of the Prime Minister's Residence are due some form of compensation for the frequent inconveniences to which they are subjected, especially as they're to be inconvenienced to a far greater degree during Israel's upcoming 60th anniversary celebrations when Bush is due to return with a whole bunch of other world leaders. By then, those of us who live in the area will not just be living in a fortress, we'll be stuck in an Israeli version of Alcatraz.