Barack Obama in Israel 2013 Jerusalem speech
Barack Obama in Israel 2013 Jerusalem speech Ben Bresky

News reporters from around the world chatted in different languages as they waited at the security check to enter the Jerusalem International Convention Center, or Binyanei Haumah, near the entrance to the city.

People passing by the busy Central Bus Station hurried to finish their Passover shopping before the streets were shut down for the president's motorcade. In the midst of the pre-Passover rush and daily work, many didn't even know United States President Barack Obama was to give a major speech just across the road.

There were numerous signs and banners advocating the release of Jonathan Pollard. The Jewish-American prisoner is said to have sent Israel classified information dealing with Arab chemical and biological weapons capabilities in the 1980s. He was sentenced to life in prison, originally in solitary confinement. His supporters argue that he has been incarcerated more years than others convicted on similar counts.

Just outside the convention center, a group of students from Ariel University held signs charging discrimination on the part of the event organizers. The signed read "Ariel U in Israel - Stop the Discrimination - Ariel Students."

Students from Ben Gurion University in the Negev, who wore blue Obama T-shirts, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, Haifa University and other higher educational institutions were invited. The Ariel students charged that their university's omission may have been politically motivated as the university is located in Samaria. The Palestinian Authority would like all of Judea and Samaria to be free of any Jewish presence.

Also outside the convention center was a small group called One Voice, whose members advocate what they called a 2-state solution.

The Star Spangled Banner, America's national anthem, was sung at the event by Adina Feldman, a Jewish-American musician who currently lives in Har Adar, a small community near Jerusalem. 

The hundreds of journalists included many well-known Israelis. There were also special invited guests at the event such as Member of Knesset Meir Porush of the United Torah Judaism party. Pepe Alalu who represents the Meretz party on the Jerusalem city council was in attendance. In the front row sat several young Muslim women in head scarves. The crowd was peppered with men in black hats, soldiers, and some colorful kippot as well. One woman sported an orange ribbon tied to her purse, a symbol of solidarity with Gush Katif.

On the sides of the aisles were Israeli citizens in wheelchairs. A volunteer stood in the aisle and translated the entire speech into sign language. 

Although President Obama received quite a few standing ovations from the majority of the crowd, there was silence in some sections of the audience. Several refrained from applauding and remained seated when the president mentioned his ideas regarding a "two-state solution".

President Obama made it clear that they were his personal ideas and he was not proposing to impose any foreign dictates on the Israeli people.

Following the speech, traffic returned to normal after a security shutdown that disrupted the buses, light rail, private vehicles and even foot traffic on some streets.

The most direct parallel to Thursday's event was the visit of President George W. Bush in 2008. The public seemed to take the presidential visit in stride as it has other local events, such as the sirens of Operation Pillar of Defense, the Jerusalem Marathon, this year's snow storm - and even the tragic bombing at the 74 bus stop which occurred across the street from where the President spoke. They are just part of the kaleidoscope of experiences that take place amidst the hustle and bustle of Israel's capital city.

All photos by Ben Bresky.