Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - One of Israel's main rescue and recovery groups is hoping to make the effects of terrorism more real to Americans by shipping a bombed-out bus to New York later this year.
Egged Bus Number 32 was destroyed when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up on the bus during the morning rush hour on June 18, 2002. Nineteen people were killed, including children on their way to school.
The force of the blast, lifted the roof off the bus, blew out the windows and threw people and body parts all over the road.
The ZAKA Rescue and Recovery group has decided to ship the burned-out hull of the bus to New York as part of its display for the "Jewish Expo 2003" trade fair, set to take place in Manhattan in December.
Wearing fluorescent yellow-green vests, ZAKA volunteers have become well-known during the last three years as the first to arrive at the scene of terror attacks (and other disasters) to deliver first aid and to clean up blood, body parts and human remains for traditional Jewish burial.
Ze'ev Feiner, a spokesman for ZAKA, said his organization had been thinking about sending an exploded bus for some time and decided to go ahead to help people in the U.S. better understand the effects of terrorism that Israelis live with every day.
When a terror attack occurs, people abroad see it on the news and then go on with their lives, Feiner said.
"Sometimes 20 people lost their lives [and many more were injured]," Feiner said by telephone. "So many lives are changed [forever]."
By taking the bus to New York, Feiner said, his group also hopes to display solidarity with the city, which was also so tragically hit by terrorism on Sept. 11, 2001.
"We want to show that victims in Jerusalem and victims in New York [are the same]. It's a long recovery process that never ends," Feiner said. "[And yet] victims of terror survive and recover."
ZAKA is a private, non-governmental organization that is funded entirely by donations. Founded officially in 1995, it has grown to include a first-response motorcycle medic corps and has more than 600 volunteers throughout the country that are committed to drop everything at a moment's notice to head for the scene of a disaster.
Some in Israel have condemned the idea of ZAKA taking the shell of a bus to the U.S. The Terror Victims Association was unavailable for comment, but a spokesman was quoted in The Jerusalem Post as calling it a fund-raising "gimmick."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled said the idea to send the bus was entirely ZAKA's.
"We're not involved. It's a private initiative... ZAKA is paying for the logistics," Peled said.
According to Peled, ZAKA approached the Ministry of Foreign Affairs several weeks ago and asked for its opinion on the idea. The Ministry said it didn't think it was "such a good idea," he said.
"We have our objections. We had our own reservations," he said, without elaborating.
Egged, the company that owns the bus and many others that have been blown up in suicide attacks, said it would not enter the fray.
"We don't have a lot of opinion in this. We heard both sides, from the Ministry of Tourism but we're just sending it like ZAKA asked."
The Ministry of Tourism declined to comment, but it was reportedly upset with the idea, fearing it would scare away potential tourists.
But Feiner insisted that there was nothing disrespectful or scary about sending the bus to the United States.
"This bus was chosen because it was relatively [clean]. It wasn't so bad... There is no trace of blood, body parts, or even glass," he said.
Seeing the bus up close is different than seeing it on television, Feiner said. It will convey "more the feeling."
Feiner argued that ZAKA volunteers, of all people, don't forget about honoring the dead because they know what happens. He said they had spoken to families of terror victims, including some who lost loved ones on Bus number 32, about the exhibit and they are in favor of the idea.
They say it's of "great importance to let the world know," Feiner said.
Margalit is a resident of Gilo. All those killed on the attack on bus number 32 were residents of that Jerusalem community. She said that many residents of the city are still afraid to ride and send their children on the buses, preferring to take taxis. She thinks it is a good idea to send the bus to New York.
"To see the bus, it's better [than without the bus]," said Margalit. "People will feel something if they see the bus."
See earlier story:
Bits of Flesh, Dreams of Peace, for Israeli Volunteers (3 July 2002)