Israelis Wade Through Bush-Related Traffic

For most regular folks in Jerusalem, traffic is the word of the day — traffic caused by President Bush's visit. Hebrew University grad student Shlomi Laufer, who lives down the street from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, describes the scene.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

So, Bill, imagine the security issues with having the president of the United States in Israel. You've been talking - we've been talking about this over dinner.

WOLFF: Well, yeah, that - think of the security challenges in the United States and the kind of security that goes with the president or even with a presidential candidate in the United States. Take the president to the most volatile region - well, one of the most volatile regions on the planet, in a place where political assassination is far more common than it is here in the West.

STEWART: Attempts, anyway, yeah.

WOLFF: Just imagine what it takes to protect George Bush.

STEWART: I don't have to imagine, because I went to the Telegraph Web site to give you a little information.

WOLFF: You are so diligent and studious, darling.

STEWART: Twenty-five armored vehicles were flown in, helicopters - eight-loads of communications equipment. All the hotel rooms in the hotel where the president is staying, booked by the White House. Now, we know what's it's like when the president comes to the New York City, which is about 300 square miles.

WOLFF: It's known as gridlock.

STEWART: Gridlock. Jerusalem is just 49 square miles. So we're going to talk to somebody who's actually having to live through all this. He's a Ph.D. student in bioengineering at Hebrew University. Shlomi Laufer joins us - from Jerusalem.

Hi, Shlomi.

Mr. SHLOMI LAUFER (Bioengineering Student, Hebrew University): Hi.

STEWART: So how close do you live to all the activity?

Mr. LAUFER: Somewhere between five to 15 minutes from - all the places you mentioned, the King David Hotel, the prime minister's house, the president's house. They're are all like in walking distance from where I live.

STEWART: And I noticed you said walking distance, as opposed to driving distance.

Mr. LAUFER: Exactly. Well, what I did today is I just left the car at home. I study a five-minute drive, 25-minute walk from where I live, that's where I study. Today I walked. And yesterday also, I just decided to walk. Like, driving the car is just too frightening. Because I knew I could drive, I never knew if I could come back. The street I live on is blocked on and off. I missed the block that I always walk but - so there are a lot of policemen all over. So I just decided to walk. And I think that's what a lot of people decided to do.

STEWART: So tell me a little bit how the president of the United States' visit has disrupted the lives of the average person just trying to get through their day in Jerusalem.

Mr. LAUFER: I think a lot of people that could just avoided coming in. I mean, Jerusalem is actually empty. If you walk on the streets, and streets were never so empty. If I would take a car, it would actually take me two minutes and not five, because no one is driving. I think whoever could come, like comes from out the city and could avoid it, just avoided it.

STEWART: Yeah.

Mr. LAUFER: People that could take a day off from work took a day off from work, or either arrived really early to work. Like yesterday, he was supposed to land around noon, and the blockage was supposed to start like four hours before he lands, so everyone went to work really early. People are taking days off. They're taking it quiet, actually. Everything is very quiet. The university is half-empty. He landed here in the stadium, the university stadium, that's where the helicopters landed.

STEWART: Wow.

Mr. LAUFER: So besides seeing the helicopter, what's interesting, the university is half-empty.

STEWART: Everybody just sort of scattered, knew there was going to be a difficulty. So I know security is usually everywhere in Jerusalem, to the point where probably locals don't necessarily notice. The same in New York City. Have you noticed it now?

Mr. LAUFER: Yeah. It's - I'm walking home, you could see the policemen all over. I mean, we have security all the time. Everything here is checked. Like when you walk into a mall in Israel, you're being checked for years now because of the other situations. But now, it's on a totally different scale. They don't check. They don't ask anything, but you see them all over.

STEWART: Now, honestly, are people talking more about the traffic and the issues of their lives than the peace agreements with the president being there?

Mr. LAUFER: The people I speak to - yeah, that's more interesting.

STEWART: Their daily - just getting where they need to go.

WOLFF: And in New York City, I can say, Shlomi, that when the president comes here, the most widespread reaction is resentment because he's caused traffic. No matter what he's doing here, people say, ah, here's President Bush. Going to have to take extra time to get to work. Is there any resentment among people in Jerusalem that their lives have been inconvenienced?

Mr. LAUFER: You know, well, I don't think we have that much of experience. So it's not like we remember last time, and now where it's traumatic for us. But, yeah. People are - yeah, like people are a bit annoyed about it. It's - I find it amusing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LAUFER: I mean, it doesn't disturb me that much because I can just walk. So it's like something interesting for me to see. But if it would happen every half year, it would be really annoying. People that are more farther away from work, and it's traffic jams and everything - I know that during the day there were traffic jams. Like in the morning and in the evening, the roads, most of the time, were totally empty. People just avoided going into the car. People that did go into the car and went in the wrong hours would be stopped for an hour. I mean, they closed the main roads from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which are the two big cities in Israel, and they closed that for an hour.

STEWART: Unbelievable, as well as the road to the airport. Hey, Shlomi Laufer, a Ph.D. student from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Hey, thanks for sharing your story.

Mr. LAUFER: Thank you very much.

STEWART: Biggest security, I believe, since the pope visited.

WOLFF: Wow.

STEWART: Unbelievable. So…

WOLFF: Wow. Yup.

STEWART: …hang in there, folks.

What's coming up?

WOLFF: Well, next on the show, we have an unbelievable story. An inspirational story, dare I say. Silvia Harris tells us how she went from a psychiatric hospital, where she was forced to live, to being only the second black female horse jockey ever to make it to the winner's circle.

This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

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