If you were not in Israel for Barack Obama’s first Presidential visit, you might have missed some of the action. Here’s an on-the-spot review:
Beginning Monday, March 18, 2013, two days before Obama’s arrival, Arabs in Bethlehem started protesting. They threw shoes and garbage at an American ‘advance’ team that had entered Bethlehem to prepare sites and confirm security. They defaced and destroyed Obama posters.
Tuesday afternoon, the day before Obama landed, Israel Highway 1 from Ben Gurion Airport to Jerusalem was intermittently blocked off. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s motorcade raced to Jerusalem.
Next day, Wednesday, traffic disruptions continued on Highway 1 for several hours, to accommodate the arriving motorcade for the President and his entourage.
In Jerusalem, several major streets in city-center were declared closed to traffic and parking from Wednesday morning to Friday afternoon. For those same three days, light-rail transport and city-wide bus schedules were disrupted.
Also on Wednesday, it was announced that portions of Highway 60—from Jerusalem to Bethlehem--were scheduled to close Friday to all traffic. The Highway was to become ‘sterile’ for a motorcade to Bethlehem. No vehicles would be permitted. That included ambulances. Emergency service would be available only by helicopter.
Over 1,000 journalists came to Israel to cover the visit. The President's entourage brought another 600.
Still Wednesday, the official Palestinian Authority news outlet published an editorial blaming America for the 9/11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center.
Jewish residents of Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter complained bitterly that security arrangements for President Obama were putting them into a ‘siege’ situation. Food deliveries, which were done daily, were stopped. Residents were told that there would be no deliveries into the Quarter for any items for the rest of the week, Wednesday through Friday. Passover preparations were going to be severely disrupted. Shabbat preparations would be nearly impossible.
On Wednesday, the President landed at Ben Gurion Airport—and got stuck. The limousine brought to transport him would not start. Someone had filled the gas tank with the wrong fuel.
When Mr Obama shook hands with Israeli officials upon his arrival, two Members of Knesset spoke to him, asking that he free Jonathan Pollard. He replied to one of them, ‘nice to meet you.’
Former POW captive Gilad Shalit wrote a publicized letter to President Obama calling for the release of Jonathan Pollard, whose stay in a US prison was approaching 10,000 days.
A community in Judea announced they would name a neighbourhood after Jonathan Pollard.
The women of the Rachel’s Tomb Foundation wrote a letter to Mr Obama asking him to release Jonathan Pollard.
As the President’s motorcade entered Jerusalem, signs captioned, ‘Welcome Mr President. Please Free Jonathan Pollard’ lined a portion of his route.
Israel President Shimon Peres asked President Obama to pardon Jonathan Pollard.
Thursday morning, prominent Rabbis marched in Jerusalem with the intent to ask President Obama to pardon Jonathan Pollard in time for Passover.
Arabs in Gaza fired rockets into Israel.
Arabs in Ramallah protested Obama’s arrival there to meet with Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinian Authority announced it would impose a 'curfew' in Ramallah for the President’s visit.
Arab lawyers announced that they would file a request with the Palestinian Authority prosecutor-general demanding that the US President be arrested during his stay in Ramallah because of the US army’s responsibility for the death of a Palestinian journalist in Iraq, in 2003, some five years before Mr Obama became US President. An Arab speaker told a crowd of protesters gathered in Ramallah that, ‘the US and Obama were the number one enemy of Islam and Muslims.’
In Gaza, protesters set fire to US and Israeli flags. Signs at the protest called Obama the ‘Hitler of the 21st Century’.
In Iran, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei chose this day to announce that the Islamic Republic of Iran would destroy Tel Aviv and Haifa if Israel attacked it.
In Hevron, Leftists from Europe joined Arab demonstrators to attack Israeli security personnel. Police arrested several Arabs and deported the Leftists.
In Thursday’s speeches in Ramallah and Jerusalem, Obama said that Jewish settlements in Judea-Samaria were an obstacle to peace; the only way Israel could thrive as a Jewish democracy was to recognize ‘the state of Palestine’; Palestine deserves to be a state; peace is possible; Israel cannot negotiate with people who are dedicated to its destruction; Mahmoud Abbas is a partner for peace.
At his Thursday speech in Jerusalem, Mr Obama was interrupted by a heckler. Reuters news service reported that the heckler had shouted at the President ‘in Hebrew’. Israel news interviewed the heckler, who turned out to be an Arab who called Obama’s speech ‘extremist and Zionist.’ Reuters had neglected to mention that.
On Friday, Mr Obama went to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial to place a memorial wreath. He was then scheduled to fly by US helicopter to Bethlehem while others in his entourage would motorcade through the 'sterile' Highway 60. But an intense sandstorm had arrived. Heaven and earth were blotted out. The Presidential helicopter was grounded. The President had to ride a hostile gauntlet through clusters of Arab protesters holding signs along Highway 60, the most creative of which said, 'Gringo, return to your colony.'
Here’s a picture of Bethlehem from 2:00 pm Friday local time, just before Obama’s arrival. The picture is from The Times of Israel, which credited Israel Channel 2 TV. If you have ever wondered what a Biblical-style sandstorm looks like, this is it:
In Bethlehem, just meters away from the Church that Mr Obama visited, a Muslim cleric declared that ‘the US is Satan and Obama is its head.’ Crowd control just before Obama arrived began to ‘get ugly’.
Friday’s plan to hold a departing ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport was cancelled: the sandstorm was too strong. Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post asked (from the airport) in a twitter, ‘what does the mother of all sandstorms at the end [of Obama’s visit] signify?’
Late Friday afternoon, as President Obama ran up the steps of Air Force One, Israel news reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had agreed to apologize to Turkey for the deaths of Turks killed when they attacked Israeli soldiers during the 2010 Gaza Mavi Marmara flotilla affair.
After the love-fest that began the Presidential visit, this parting declaration felt more shocking than loving. For some, it soured the love.
So it is that, as a Biblical-like sandstorm blotted out reality, US President Barack Obama left Israel. Perhaps, as we contemplate our First Redemption and think about the ten plagues of ancient Egypt post-Passover, we can also discuss the question, was the blinding sand-storm a Divine message--or reaction--to Mr. Obama?