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Day 2: Democracy at work: Mid-East Style
by Judy Lash Balint
January 10, 2008

While most Jerusalemites were home trying to keep warm last night, the young and the curious did venture out in the cold rainy evening to try to get a glimpse of the mammoth American security apparatus that has descended on our city for the duration of the Bush visit.

One of the most curious sights had to be the presence of a bulletproof bus belonging to the Shomron regional council being used to block King David street a few yards away from the King David Hotel where Bush and entourage are staying.

For American political purposes, the Shomron region, known as Samaria in English, is part of the west bank, under consideration to be part of the Palestinian state through a Bush/Olmert vision of the two-state solution. The reason buses in that area are bullet-proof is because Arab terrorists find it expedient to fire on Jewish civilians who have the audacity to want to travel to and from their homes. How ironic that the Bush security detail couldn’t find anything better than “settler” buses to protect their president.

Most of those out on the street ogling the bus and the security personnel are young Haredim. Perhaps it’s because there are few legitimate entertainment options for the young ultra-orthodox lads that their rabbis permitted them to go out on the streets for the presidential visit. Huddled in small groups behind the crowd control barricades, the black-clad guys smoke and joke among themselves while awaiting police permission to cross the streets closed off by barricades.

Jerusalem residents had been warned to be sure to carry ID at all times (it’s the law here anyway….) and sure enough, early this morning, not far from the Dan Panorama Hotel that houses the White House press corps, two cops stopped the lone pedestrian on the normally bustling street to search his backpack and check his ID.

Perhaps the extra attention was because of an incident that took place outside the hotel yesterday evening that involved a couple of my friends. A few American olim had decided to organize an effort to try to provide the journalists with some alternate points of view to the government line. Under the rubric of Concerned American Citizens they hung around the press center to give interviews and distribute some written material.

Three of the activists fell foul of the authorities and were bustled into a police car and taken to the nearby Russian Compound interrogation center where they were detained for almost an hour while the Israeli thought police attempted to read through the English booklet they were trying to give to the journalists. The booklet is a harmless rundown of reasons why Fatah should not be considered as a moderate peace partner, penned by a sixty-something American immigrant grandmother who belongs to my shul. The booklet was deemed “seditious material” by the ever-vigilant cops.

Demonstrators fared little better in Ramallah this morning when at least 10 were arrested and dozens injured as more than 1000 Palestinian anti-Bush protesters took to the streets to send Bush a message.

Out on the streets of Jerusalem today, hundreds of shivering police and army personnel stood around with nothing to do now that G.W. is temporarily in the hands of the Palestinians as he traverses from Ramallah to Bethlehem. Tonight, half of Jerusalem’s roads will close down again as the President heads to a state dinner with Prime Minister Olmert.

Less than 24 hours remain of this visit that promises to be quickly forgotten by all but the grinning Olmert. (For photos of the visit go to http://flickr.com/photos/jerusalemdiaries/)

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