Terror on display

jerusalem | An Israeli disaster response group is shipping a bus destroyed in one of the deadliest Palestinian suicide bombings to a New York City fair, to be displayed alongside booths promoting Jewish culture and tourism to Israel.

The idea is to bring home the horror of the attacks that have plagued Israel and to raise funds — but relatives of victims of terror attacks are outraged. Israeli government officials also have quietly questioned its wisdom.

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

ZAKA Rescue and Recovery, a group of mostly ultra-Orthodox Jewish volunteers who assist ambulance crews and identify and collect body parts for burial, plans to send the shattered bus by ocean freighter to the December fair, ZAKA spokesman Zelig Feiner said Thursday.

ZAKA hopes the wreckage will send a powerful message. “We want people to know what’s really going on here,’ he said, adding that both Israel and New York have been targets of terrorism. He said the project is designed to raise money for the organization.

Feiner said ZAKA has received complaints that the display will offset efforts at the fair to boost Israel’s tourism industry, which has been decimated by fears generated by the violence. Also, survivors of attacks and families of victims 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.

The bus was blown up in Jerusalem on June 18, 2002, killing 19 people in what was seen as one of the worst suicide bombings in recent years. It helped trigger Israel’s decision to reoccupy most major West Bank towns, putting more than a half million Palestinians under frequent curfew.

The fair, Jewish Expo 2003, is scheduled for the start of the Chanukah holiday on December 20-22 at Manhattan’s Javits Center. It will display company booths from real estate, food, Jewish art and other businesses.

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

The Israeli tourism ministry said it had nothing to do with the bus display and officials refused to comment further.

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 with the exhibit.

Eli Avi-Zedek, whose 15-year-old daughter, Shani, was killed in the attack on the bus, 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.’