Middle East

'Obamamania' engulfs Jerusalem on eve of visit

An employee arranges an Israeli national flag next to a U.S. one at the residence of Israel's President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit, March 18, 2013. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

JERUSALEM: Jerusalem was decked out with US flags and bunting as the Holy City geared up to roll out the red carpet for Wednesday's historic visit by US President Barack Obama.

Despite the excitement and fanfare, Obama's trip, his first since becoming president, has met however with mixed reaction from ordinary Israelis and Palestinians.

Ahead of the president's arrival at midday on Wednesday, the Jerusalem city council has strung up around 1,000 Israeli and US flags throughout the city.

And there are plans to project "a decorative light show onto the walls of the Old City throughout the visit so that the president can watch it from his room" in the prestigious King David Hotel, the municipality said.

For weeks now, Jerusalem has been awash with mostly officially-sponsored "Obamamania" which started when the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a public vote on Facebook to decide on an official logo for the visit.

The winning design featuring a fused-together US-Israeli flag with the words "Unbreakable Alliance" underneath.

The US embassy has also harnessed social media to hype up the visit, with its official Facebook page featuring a picture of Obama tucking into a plate of food, a thought bubble reading: "What will I eat in Israel?"

The Arabic-language daily Al-Quds on Tuesday satirised the political significance of the region's cuisine in a cartoon.

The cartoon shows Obama eyeing up a table of food being prepared by a chef, who says in a thick Hebrew accent "Falafel, hummus, tehina: Made in Israel," a reference to regional dishes that are often claimed to be exclusively Israeli.

The US consulate also released a rap video on YouTube by the Palestinian "youth of Hebron" which welcomes Obama "with an olive branch," and shows children playing as a life-size cardboard cut-out of the US president hovers next to them in a school playground.

But despite the official hype, campaigns openly hostile to the visit, by both Palestinians and Israelis, have gathered pace.

Another YouTube music video berates Obama for the United States' vote against the Palestinian bid to secure upgraded UN status, a resolution which passed with overwhelming international support in November.

A separate Facebook campaign features a no-entry sign over Obama's face, saying: "Do not enter. The people of Palestine do not welcome you here."

Palestinians in Bethlehem, where Obama is to visit the Church of the Nativity, on Tuesday hurled shoes at a giant poster of the president, an AFP correspondent said, and reportedly set fire to a picture of him, demanding the release of prisoners held by Israel and an end to settlement building.

Later on Tuesday, activists are also planning an anti-Obama protest opposing a return to "futile peace negotiations" in Ramallah, where the US leader will on Thursday meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Scores of students from Ariel University, which was recognised earlier this year as the first university in a settlement, on Tuesday protested outside the US consulate, angered after they were not invited to an Obama speech along with Israel's established universities.

"Yes we can? No we can't! We will not let Obama discriminate against us," railed the students' Facebook campaign, invoking Obama's 2008 presidential campaign slogan.

Security measures across the city have been stepped up dramatically ahead of the visit, police said.

"This is the largest police operation since president George Bush's visit in 2008," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

"There will be 15,000 police officers deployed" throughout the city for the duration of the visit, he said -- with 5,000 on duty every day.

Police will coordinate with US security details, which will include convoys, helicopters and rapid response units, Rosenfeld said.

The area around the King David Hotel will be completely closed off for the duration of the visit.

Other roads in the city will be sealed off and public transport rerouted with the details laid out in 30,000 flyers distributed by the municipality.





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