While Jerusalem has been visually primed for U.S. President Barack Obama's visit -- over 1,000 American and Israeli flags dot major roads and streets along with signs and banners that read 'Unbreakable Alliance' -- Jerusalem hotels have also been gearing up for their guests.
Photo: Anav Silverman, Tazpit News Agency / Description: American flags hang throughout Jerusalem.
Along with Obama, the fifth American president to visit Israel, approximately 500 foreign journalists are visiting Jerusalem to cover the presidential trip. The White House press corps, which includes CNN, Fox News, NBC and many other news correspondents, will be staying at Jerusalem's Inbal Hotel, while the president and his entourage will be housed nearby in the prestigious King David Hotel.
While the management at both hotels are no strangers to foreign dignitaries and have held long traditions of hosting respected world leaders and high-level officials, the Inbal hotel has a major assignment during the upcoming U.S. President's visit -- to host one of the biggest media operations in the history of Israel.
"The requirements were very different this time around," Inbal's General Manager, Bruno H.P. De Schuyter told Tazpit News Agency. For the over 200 foreign reporters staying at the Inbal hotel including the White House press corps, the Inbal had to provide the premises for a special media center to accommodate all the media and communication needs of the visiting press.
"Because the Inbal was the only hotel in Jerusalem that offered the logistics suitable for such a press center, along with its views of the Old City for backdrop filming and interviews, and its central location in the capital, our hotel was chosen by the White House," explains De Schuyter. Several other Jerusalem hotels competed to host the White House press corps.
Photo: Anav Silverman, Tazpit News Agency / Description: The media room for the White House press corps in Jerusalem's Inbal hotel.
In addition to providing the media infrastructure, dubbed the 'nerve center,' the Inbal also had to contend with the food limitations that the Passover holiday entails (no leavened bread, wheat and other grains) which follows Obama's visit.
"Our chef was extremely creative in designing the menu for the visiting guests," said De Schuyter. With the hotel's kitchen already kosher for Passover, journalists who situated early in the hotel on Monday, were already eating the holiday pre-approved food. "This is good!" remarked one correspondent to another, after taking a bite of the kosher-for-Passover sandwich.
At the King David, I was the last reporter on Tuesday morning to be given a tour before the hotel premises were sealed off to the public for the president's arrival on Wednesday, March 20.
The historic prestige of the King David, built in 1930, is immediately felt as one enters the famous hotel, which hosted President Obama when he was a senator visiting Israel in 2008. The hotel has had many famous personalities and world leaders, most recently Russian President Vladimir Putin, former French President Nicholas Sarkozy and last November, former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. "
"It is President Obama's second stay at the hotel," Yoni Forsyth, King David's spokesperson told Tazpit News Agency. "We knew he would be back on this visit."
"The president has a wonderful view of the Dome of Rock, the Tower of David, the French and Vatican consulates nearby. He can see both the new and old city."
"There's never been a complaint from a world leader," Forsyth continued. "We keep a guestbook full of personal comments and compliments -- Bono even wrote a poem when he stayed at the King David last year."
Photo: Anav Silverman, Tazpit News Agency / Description: President Obama's signature was the most recent addition to the list of famous signatures on the tiles of King David's lobby. Just above is Jordan's King Hussein's signature who stayed at hotel in 1995.
"We are well aware of the fact that a quality experience at the hotel will impact the rest of the visit and therefore we do our utmost to make sure our guests are satisfied from top chefs taking care of the food, which is also kosher for Passover, and all other services." New uniforms have been tailored for the staff, the red carpets have been cleaned and every inch of the hotel inspected.
Forsyth points to the balcony overlooking the King David garden where Winston Churchill smoked a cigar. "The staff here is very familiar with hosting important personalities and political figures. The employees taking care of President Obama, are some of the same employees who attended to Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon and Anwar Sadaat."
"The hotel is part of Israel's history -- the Jordanian peace agreement was signed here," says Forsyth pointing to a beautiful wooden table upon which the agreement was signed. "President Obama's visit is another stop in the hotel's long history of hosting historical moments and personalities."
Dror Danino, King David's manager, says he is looking forward to greeting President Obama and ensuring his stay is a pleasant one. "We know exactly what will happen at each moment during the president's stay. The White House team has been great to work with and our staff is experienced with these kinds of visits."
"The next time we get to sleep, however, will be after the Passover seder next week," Danino added.