Who's secure?

Conventional wisdom is mistaken in its belief that the area in the vicinity of the prime minister's residence is the safest in the country.

pm residence 248.88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
pm residence 248.88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
For five quiet months, the period between former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's departure and his successor's arrival at the official residence on Balfour Street, we enjoyed a brief hiatus of freedom. Yes, the security apparatus that has blemished what was a once a small but beautiful street remained in place, as did the ugly corrugated iron fence around the legendary Villa Salameh. And with the fortifications that have been added over the years, the Prime Minister's residence, with the spikes protruding from the top of the outer walls and barriers hampering motorized and pedestrian traffic, always looks like a fortress. But at least there were far less security personnel and none of the security exercises that close off sections of intersecting streets surrounding the official residence, as there are now. Suddenly there are new booths for the border police who are on the guard duty roster; more police cars and vans lined up on both sides of the street at odd hours of the day and night; more security personnel traversing the street round the clock; more checks of private hallways and gardens; and more frequent notices in our mail boxes about security exercises. The concertina fence placed across Smolenskin Street, with two openings for pedestrians, is frequently closed on one side, forcing people to cross the road - even if they weren't planning on going in that direction. Conventional wisdom is mistaken in its belief that the area in the vicinity of the prime minister's residence is the safest in the country. It isn't. All those gun-toting security people are not there to protect anyone other than the Prime Minister. Other residents of the area who may have been in any way violated will get nowhere fast if they scream "thief" or "rape." The only correct code word to ensure that someone will come to your assistance in case of attack is "terrorist." The amount of public money wasted on border guard personnel who seem to spend more time talking to their friends on their cell phones than doing anything that might be construed as work or guard duty is annoying, to say the least. I must admit that I was surprised when coming home late one night to find a young border guard sweeping the street. Whether he had been instructed to do this or whether he was doing it out of boredom remains a mystery. Although the street is usually well lit at night, some of the guards feel the need to carry strong, wide-beam torches that illuminate the street as if it were a stage. When the beam penetrates into residents' living rooms or bedrooms - it's as close as you can get to an invasion of privacy. Prime Minister Olmert starts his day early and the sirens start to blare at 7 am. They continue to blare throughout the day, whenever he leaves or returns home. The noise is bad enough. But at these times, none of his neighbors are permitted to pass by his house from any direction. Too bad that they may have urgent appointments that they might miss because they are forced to either wait or make a long detour. At least when Ariel Sharon was Prime Minister, the security detail was more reasonable. If someone put up a good enough argument, they got an escort through the few 'sensitive' meters that they had to walk. But now, there is no escort and residents who argue that they have a right of passage are threatened with arrest. Presumably the people on this security detail are unaware that one of the basic freedoms enshrined in Israeli law is freedom of movement. As a result of the increased security hassles, property values have deteriorated, although they are soaring in other parts of the neighborhood. A new official residence is under construction in a non-residential area, but until it is ready for occupancy - and who knows when that will be - the Prime Minister's neighbors are forced to suffer without recompense.