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Looking Terrorism in the Eye

Activists hope to feature an Israeli bus destroyed in a suicide attack to make a point on killing civilians.

November 21, 2003|Bob Baker | Times Staff Writer

HAIFA, Israel — A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up and killed at least 15 people in Haifa Wednesday....

News item, March 5, 2003

Bernie Massey, the co-founder of a Westside social action foundation, had been trying to figure out how to make a statement against terrorism. He wanted to put together a traveling exhibit that would grab people by the throat and scream: No matter how many righteous grievances you may have, murdering civilians is wrong.

Late last year, Massey settled on the notion of taking a grotesquely damaged bus around North America. There was one in Egypt, but it was too high for U.S. highways. There was another that terrorists had raided in India, but the gunshot damage was not dramatic enough.

And then came the March attack on a commuter bus -- Bus 37 -- in Haifa.

... The bomber was wearing a belt packed with ... explosives and nails to cause maximum damage....

The more Massey read about the Haifa attack, which eventually claimed 18 lives and injured 30, the more visceral potential he saw: Half the victims were teenagers coming home from school. The victims were of three faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Through his nonprofit group, the Center for American Studies and Culture, which he and his brother Ed created in 1997, Massey made contact with the Haifa bus operator. In May, he flew to Israel and bought Bus 37 -- a mess of exploded seats and sagging metal with two-thirds of its roof blown away -- for about $1,500. He arranged for the bus to be put on a ship bound for Los Angeles and found a company in a San Fernando Valley industrial neighborhood to house it while he and a band of volunteers figured out their next steps.

Now Massey is beginning a drive to raise $1.5 million to finance an eight-month journey of the bus through the U.S. and Canada. He anticipates donations from a variety of social and cultural causes, religious organizations and communities interested in having Bus 37 parked in their neighborhood for a day.

... Wednesday's blast was so powerful it sprayed blood on cars and spewed body parts of the victims halfway across the block....

Massey wants to put his anti-terrorism exhibit on the road next spring. He imagines it as a dual-flatbed-truck caravan, with the first truck carrying Bus 37 and the second carrying two huge video screens showing graphic tape of scores of terrorist attacks, including the bombings of hotels in Spain and Pakistan, a social center in Argentina, a rock concert in Russia, a bank in Sri Lanka, a nightclub in Indonesia, the federal building in Oklahoma, the U.S. Embassy in Kenya and a disco in Israel and, of course, the attack on the World Trade Center. The video would focus, not merely on the carnage, but on the rehabilitation struggles faced by survivors.

"People don't recognize how broadly this happens on an international level," he said. "And there are pockets of people who believe their grievances justify terrorism. Once you go through that door, you can't close it.... There are many other ways to promote your cause. This tactic has to be ripped out of the playbook."

Massey has tried to keep Bus 37 as he found it -- with some of the possessions of the wounded and the dead still on it. He had workers glue the effects in place, and found structural engineers to install cables and bracing so that the fragile bus would not fall apart during transit.

Then, this week, he let a reporter and photographer take the first outside look.

... Ambulance workers administered first aid to the people wounded in the blast, around a dozen of whom were later fighting for their lives in local hospitals....

Pieces of the tragedy are everywhere on the 40-foot, white-and-red-trimmed bus -- too numerous to take in at once. A leather purse sits on one seat. Nearby are a pair of children's green socks. Farther toward the back, near where the terrorist detonated his bomb, blowing a hole in the floor, is a teenager's school notebook. Some seats are broken in half, exposing their cushioning. Scattered are a dark shirt, pens and a piece of the bus' loudspeaker. Rubber air-conditioning tubing sags from the ceiling. Exposed wires erupt from the driver's floor panel. The right-side mirror is shattered. The metal frame of the bus is pockmarked from the small, ball-bearing-like chunks of metal that made the bomb so deadly.

Courtney Mizel Green, a full-time volunteer on Massey's bus project, saw Bus 37 for the first time this week after working on the idea for nearly a year, and was stunned. "Until today it never grabbed me emotionally," she said.

"I ran to the bus and I helped evacuate the passengers. I saw five to 10 corpses inside the bus," said the driver of another bus, Ovadia Saar....

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