Bus destroyed in suicide bombing to be displayed at New York

Friday, October 3, 2003

JERUSALEM -- A bus destroyed in one of the deadliest Palestinian suicide bombings will be displayed at a New York fair alongside booths promoting Jewish culture and tourism to Israel.

Relatives of the bombing's victims are outraged, and Israeli government officials have quietly questioned the wisdom of the plans by ZAKA Rescue and Recovery, an Israeli disaster response group.

The idea is bring home the horror of the terror attacks that have plagued Israel, as well as to raise funds for ZAKA, a group of mostly ultra-Orthodox Jewish volunteers who assist ambulance crews and identify and collect body parts for burial.

In three years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, 413 people have been killed in 102 Palestinian suicide bombings, many of them targeting city buses.

The wreckage of the bus that was blown up in Jerusalem on June 18, 2002, killing 19 people, will be displayed in Manhattan at Jewish Expo 2003, scheduled for Dec. 20-22 -- the start of the Hanukkah holiday.

"We want people to know what's really going on here," said ZAKA spokesman Zelig Feiner, noting that both Israel and New York have been targets of terrorism. He said the project also is designed to raise money for the organization.

Feiner said ZAKA has received Israeli complaints that the display will offset efforts at the fair to boost tourism, which has been hurt by the violence. Survivors of terror attacks and families of victims also say they're shocked by the planned display.

A spokesman for Israel's Terror Victims Association, Meir Indor, said ZAKA's display cheapens the deaths and survivors' trauma, especially because it is being done partly to raise money.

"They're marketing the blood of the people," Indor said.

Eli Avi-Zedek, whose 15-year-old daughter, Shani, was killed in the attack, was shocked to learn of the display.

"I saw the bus -- its remains -- for the first time this week in the newspaper," he said. "This is terrible. It's terrible to see it and think that people were inside."

Feiner said Thursday the wreckage was chosen because it was in relatively good shape and therefore less likely to disturb viewers.

The red and white city bus's windows and roof were blown out and some of its metal structure was twisted, but the chassis and most of the body are somewhat intact.

"The bus doesn't look so bad," he said. "It's in quite good condition and people have seen worse in photos. There are no body parts or blood on it. It's just a piece of broken metal."

The attack, one of the worst suicide bombings in recent years, helped trigger Israel's decision to reoccupy most major West Bank towns, putting more than a half-million Palestinians under frequent curfew.

The fair will have booths about real estate, food, Jewish art and other businesses, said Barbara Ackerman, manager of the show.

Ackerman, who is also a vice president of IMC Events and Exhibitions, which has put on the expo every few years since the mid-1980s, said she wasn't involved in discussions about the bus, but added: "We wouldn't want to do anything to hurt Israel or its people."

Israel's tourism ministry is sending representatives to the fair. A spokesman said the ministry had nothing to do with the bus display and refused further comment.

The fair is sponsored in part by Israel's government. A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Jonathan Peled, said government officials were asked by ZAKA for their views on the bus display last week.

"We thought that it might not be such a good idea at the moment," Peled said. "In such a fair, that's supposed to encourage people to visit Israel, it might have a contrary effect."

Despite such views, ZAKA is forging ahead. The group received the gutted bus from Israel's Egged bus company, which normally strips blown-up buses for parts or simply crushes them for disposal.

An Egged spokeswoman said it gave the bus to the group without much discussion. "We were just responding to the ZAKA request, and we don't have any opinion about it," Karny Barak said.

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