Inside Donald Trump’s Stay at Israel’s King David Hotel: Robots, Rocket-Proof Glass and a $100m Price Tag

King David Hotel
Israeli police and border police officers stand in front of the King David hotel in Jerusalem January 9, 2008. U.S. President Donald Trump is to arrive at the hotel on Monday night amid tight security. Reuters/Ammar Awad

Sheldon Ritz was expecting business as usual at the storied King David Hotel in Jerusalem last week. Several notable names—such as the Premier of Quebec Philippe Couillard and former Republican governor Mike Huckabee—were to stay, alongside the usual slew of tourists.

But for the hotel’s head of operations, confirmation on May 5 that President Donald Trump would be staying at the hotel—and not the rival Waldorf Astoria or the David Citadel—set off a two-week logistical scramble.

Trump's delegation has taken over the entire hotel, six floors, and 1,100 rooms across Jerusalem, at a cost of “millions,” Ritz says. The Israeli press estimates the total 28-hour trip will cost the American taxpayer $100 million.

He says the hotel itself has suffered a “financial loss.” It had to close from 2 p.m. Sunday to 6 p.m. Monday to allow Trump’s team to prepare. It has also had to pay to put guests, who had already made reservations for Sunday and Monday, elsewhere. “Regular tourists don’t understand that they can’t be in the same hotel at the same time as Trump,” he says. “They are pretty upset.”

It was not just tourists who had to leave the hotel. Staff had to ask Couillard and Huckabee to leave, whose team eventually made other arrangements in Jerusalem. The Japanese embassy had to cancel a celebration marking the 65th anniversary of its relations with Israel. When Trump departs for Italy on Tuesday, the hotel can only reopen its doors to guests when the president is two hours outside of Israeli airspace, Ritz says.

On top of that, Trump’s delegation of 1,000, including the teams of his daughter Ivanka Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis, are to descend upon the hotel. Some of Trump’s team arrived two days earlier to prepare, setting up 15 offices in the hotel and several boardrooms. The hotel is subject to the security vetting of the American and Israeli security services, and U.S. Navy Seals and the Secret Service will protect his delegation. The Americans shipped in a motorcade of fifty-six vehicles—including his armoured limo known as ‘the Beast.’ Eighteen of those will be in the King David parking lot, Ritz says, while the rest will sit on the closed road, blocked by buses. This combined has created a chaotic race against time for Ritz and his staff to be ready for the leader of the most-powerful country in the world.

“It’s non stop. You’re trying to split yourself like ten ways,” South African-born Ritz tells Newsweek by phone from Jersualem. “Everyone wants your attention.”

But if any hotel can deal with the quick turnaround, it is the King David, which sits just off the street of the same name. It is a hotel that survived a Jewish nationalist bombing during the British Mandate in 1946 that killed 91 people, and has hosted royalty and statesmen ever since, from Prince Charles to former Jordanian King Hussein to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

For Ritz and the King David’s owner, Dan Hotels, hosting the president of the United States more than compensates the financial loss. “It doesn’t really worry us, basically,” he says. “This is a highlight. We’re very happy that he’s coming.”

Trump’s predecessors Barack Obama and George W. Bush also stayed at the hotels. While his arrangements are similar to theirs, it still represents one of the largest security operations for a statesman in modern history. Ritz says it is less King David’s pomp, but a combination of its history and security measures, unparalleled in the Middle East, that attracts U.S. leaders.

Trump is bringing with him not just the hope of reviving a moribund peace process—with plans to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas—but one of the largest security operations for a head of state witnessed in modern history.

“The suites have been built to the highest standards—unrivalled in the Middle East—of security,” Ritz says.

Balloons with infrared cameras will be placed above the building and robots will crawl the sewers below the building, searching for bombs. The hotel itself sits back from the main road and has restricted access for vehicles. Its 52 suites, the most expensive averaging $5,500 a night, overlook Jerusalem’s Old City. The windows in its top suites feature bulletproof and rocket-proof glass. The air conditioning systems are gas-proof.

King David Hotel A bedroom inside a suite is seen at the King David Hotel, in Jerusalem May 15, 2017. Reuters/Nir Elias

The president will have his own private elevator that gives him access to the roof of the hotel or the parking lot if he is in danger. Every member of staff is vetted by Israel’s Shin Bet security service and they have been ordered not to greet him. The hotel’s walls are made of concrete and steel, and the presidential suite is designed to remain intact in the event of a building collapse, according to Ritz.

In an operation Israeli forces are dubbing “Blue Shield,” more than 10,000 Israeli police officers, as well as police helicopters, will be “securing the areas” that Trump is visiting and staying, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld tells Newsweek by email, in what is their “most important and significant” operation of the year. They are in “full coordination” with the American security services, he adds.

On top of the King David’s secure windows, Trump’s security team are bringing their own bulletproof windows. Tillerson, Kushner and Trump will split the hotel’s three top suites: the presidential suite, the royal suite and the Jerusalem suite.

Ritz says we will “never know” which room Trump stays in. For security purposes, he may stay in a “small, normal” room in the hotel. U.S. government mechanics for that fleet are staying in Tel Aviv, Ritz says, and the Americans have reserved two other hotels: the Dan Boutique and Dan Panorama. His team is bringing all of his food, as long as it meets the hotel’s kosher rules, and the hotel’s waiters are not permitted to serve him or travel to his floor.

King David Hotel A view, including the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City, is seen through the window of a suite at the King David Hotel, in Jerusalem May 15, 2017. Reuters/Nir Elias

The hotel will be closed for the entirety of Trump’s stay and his arrival is set cause upheaval in the city. Kindergartens near to King David Street are to close and traffic will be severely disrupted by American and Israeli security.

A series of mishaps before the trip have dampened the mood of some Israelis. Trump cancelled a visit to the ancient Masada fortress, announced only a 15-minute stay at the national Holocaust museum Yad Vashem, and his team said the Western Wall—an outer wall of their holiest site, the Temple Mount—is not in Israel but the West Bank. The Trump team also cancelled a dinner for officials at the hotel on Monday night for logistical reasons.

But for all the talk of offensive preparations, some remain happy that he has prioritized a visit to the region so early.

“The interesting thing is, if Bush and Obama weren’t reelected they wouldn’t have come to Israel,” Ritz says (both leaders visited Israel in their second terms: Bush twice in 2008, Obama in 2013). “President Trump came within his first 120 days of office.”

The King David is now “ready for an American president,” says Ritz, whose work is only likely to increase with Trump’s arrival. “Hopefully there won’t be any infiltration,” he laughs, safe in the knowledge that his hotel will be the most protected place in the Middle East for the next two days.