The Prayer of Bus 19
by James Brooks
May 6, 2004

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Editor's Note: We just received news that Bus 19, the blasted remains of an Israeli bus attacked by a suicide bomber in Jerusalem, will not be appearing at today's National Day of Prayer event in Washington, DC for reasons as of yet unexplained. However, even if the Capitol misses this grotesque spectacle, Christians For Israel USA say they "will be going on tour with Bus 19 around the United States."

For May 6, our National Day of Prayer, the National Day of Prayer Task Force will lead America’s worship with a striking tableau at the Capitol Complex in Washington, DC. The production of this year’s event has been delegated to Christians for Israel USA, who will "pray for America and Israel" all day on the Capitol steps, largely by listening to more than twenty strident Israel boosters expound on the event's edifying theme: "Terror, A One-Way Ticket".

One doubts the orators will touch on the implication of their slogan, that our definition of "terror" is a one-way proposition and a dead-end trip. "Terror, we're gonna run you out of town!" is a much more likely line. Judging by the roster of speakers, which will feature such Likudnik luminaries as Gary Bauer and John Podhoretz, we can also expect at least an hour extolling the noble, brave and stunningly efficient expertise of Israel's "brave lads" in routing terror wherever it appears. Since it is, after all, our National Day of Prayer, at least one speaker must mention that Israel leads "the most moral army in the world."

At noon, these eager anti-Ishmaelites will unveil their headliner: the blasted remains of a Jerusalem bus attacked by a suicide bomber last January. The crowd can be expected to audibly recoil at the sight of "Bus 19", possibly aghast that anyone would bother to ship this grotesque hulk of metal around the world to be displayed in public places. But ZAKA, “Israel's rapid-response first-aid organization”, has bothered. In fact, Bus 19 is arriving from a month at The Hague, where it graced the grounds outside the International Court of Justice's hearings on Israel's "separation fence".

Like other Israeli "self-help" organizations, ZAKA is numerically small in Israel (with "600 volunteers" in-country, per an enthusiastic recruit) but quite large in American pro-Israel circles, which give lavishly to anyone emphasizing aid to Jewish victims of terror. With this kind of dollar-raising power, groups like ZAKA become significant propaganda organs both in Israel and the US. ZAKA sports offices in New York City and enough money left over to provide major sponsorship of events like "Israel in the Ball Park 2004", which will "celebrate Israel's 56th anniversary at the largest Jewish community family festival in Northern California!"

But of course Jerusalem's Bus 19 is not part of ZAKA's propaganda activities. It is a solemn contribution to our National Day of Prayer. Christians for Israel USA offers four reasons to display this Holy Relic.

First, it will " show the unvarnished face of terrorism and the war we face in the 21st century." Apparently September 11 failed to adequately convey this message. Second, the bus will "show that those who would destroy Israel as a nation have formed an alliance against God." Third and most ominously, Bus 19 will help us "focus on Biblical solutions rather than political, military, and economic stopgaps." Translated from Christian Zionism, this means Israel must be allowed to seize all of Palestine (at least) in order to bring on Armageddon and the Christian Rapture. The last purpose for displaying Bus 19 is "to pray for the Peace of Jerusalem." This seems a bit odd, since Christian Zionists make it clear that a war over Jerusalem is exactly what they want. Perhaps it's simply a metaphor for the Peace of God they expect to inherit after Israel explodes the Middle East and we pagans perish in an ocean of fire.

However, CFIUSA slips dangerously close to making sense when it warns us that "anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are being morphed together against Israel throughout the world". For that is precisely what is happening, as everyone from Hillary Clinton to Merriam-Webster to Israel's extremist Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman defines "anti-Semitism" to include criticism of Israel and Zionism. The result of this absurd gambit does indeed seem likely to run "against Israel" over time, by alienating centrist and leftist free speech circles here in the US and around the world. That this censorious linguistic "morphing" is a blatant exploitation of the Jewish religion should go without saying, and unfortunately it does.

On January 29 of this year, Bus 19 was travelling down Gaza Road in Jerusalem when, just seventy-five meters from Prime Minster Ariel Sharon's residence, it exploded in an unusually powerful blast that killed eleven Israeli civilians and wounded over fifty others. The bomber was Ali Muna Jaara, a twenty-four year old Palestinian policeman due to be married the following week. The day after the bombing, Israeli forces descended on Jaara's hometown, the Aida refugee camp outside Bethlehem. In a "restrained response", they demolished his family's home, perhaps because rendering Palestinians homeless makes them less likely to become terrorists.

The Israelis know how to do it, which is why they train our troops for their humanitarian duties in Iraq. Few nations can match Israel's record; a thirty-seven year war against terror (the original billing for the current "Occupation") that has resulted in complete and utter failure. Nearly four decades of Israel’s "prodigious" anti-terror efforts have only succeeded in increasing the rate and severity of acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians. Israel is regarded as having the world’s most experienced anti-terror force precisely because it has been so adept at fomenting terrorism.

But the National Day of Prayer Task Force seems to think that if we pray before Bus 19, things will be different. The NDPTF's honorary chairman for 2004 is Iran-Contra star, Colonel Oliver North. His new book, True Freedom, "communicates real-life stories about how prayer provides freedom from guilt, anxiety, sin's power, self-deception and other topics", all no doubt very familiar to Colonel North, who seems to have found some especially powerful prayers of his own.

The non-profit NDPTF was sired by the National Prayer Committee, directed by Dr. Robert Bakke. Bakke is one of two NPC officers on the Presidential Prayer Team, a Bush innovation to convene the leaders of the Christian Right for prayers and God only knows what else.

Christians for Israel USA also tell us they are dumping the relic of Bus 19 on the Capitol grounds "to help Americans visualize the terror that Israelis face on a daily basis and to heighten the public conscience in regards to terror. Being able to come close to the bus, to look inside will remind people that this type of violence can occur anyplace, anytime, including right here in America. We hope it brings a refreshed understanding of the evil that the Jewish people and Israel face."

Violence that can "occur anyplace, anytime" has no context, and apparently no purpose or rationale at all, except to kill Jews and, by extension, Americans. But of course the point here is not the violence, but the victim. Identifying Israel, Israelis and Jews as The Victims is the order of the day. The implication of the Bus 19 Road Show is that Israelis are not simply victims of heinous terror, but the world's pre-eminent and reigning Victims of Terror. Who else has suffered so much that they must send the twisted wreckage of their terror attacks off on a world tour of macabre self-pity?

Even the Palestinians, who have lost three times as many innocent civilians to Israeli violence, haven't suffered enough to ship the wreckage of their bombed-out automobiles and apartment complexes to Washington. Perhaps they lack the imagination necessary to be successful victims in today's world. Or perhaps they just lack the funds, or that inimitable sense of being truly exceptional human beings.

The Palestinians are of course the missing "context" for the violence that CFIUSA warns us can "occur anyplace, anytime". By repeatedly standing, sitting, or lying in the paths of Israeli bullets, they continue to encourage their own armed resistance. In the typical week preceding the attack on Bus 19, nine Palestinians, including four children, died under Israeli fire. Farmlands in the Gaza Strip were razed and seized, Israeli troops used Palestinians as "human shields" during their raids, and a five-story apartment building in Nablus was completely demolished because Israeli forces "wanted" a man inside.

After the bombing of Bus 19, much was made of the fact that Ali Jaara had been a Palestinian policeman. Surely this was proof, cried Zionists, that the PA directs Palestinian terrorism. More temperate voices, such as the BBC's, found Jaara "an unusual recruit", not only because he was a policeman, but also "a quiet and devout Muslim who had shown little interest in politics." His family was "shocked". "I was expecting to marry him, not to bury him. This is just not my son. I just couldn't believe it," his father said.

The BBC pointed out that "it is questionable whether loyalty as a police officer to the Palestinian Authority's commitment to peace with Israel would have weighed greatly with him. Palestinian policemen have come under attack regularly in Israeli operations against militants in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with officers killed in gun battles and police stations demolished."

Indeed, the Israel Defense Forces spent the first part of the Second Intifada systematically destroying the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority, including nearly $2 billion worth of new construction paid for by the EU. It is possible that Mr. Jaara developed some resentment as scores of his police colleagues died at the hands of Israeli troops. However, in the hand-written note he left behind, Mr. Jaara explained that he "carried out this operation for the sake of God and in reply to the crimes of ...Sharon, and specifically for the massacre in the neighborhood of Zeytoun, in Gaza."

Although news junkies around the world remember his bombing of Bus 19, hardly anyone recalls the incident Jaara cited as the trigger for his act. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported that on January 28 (the day before Jaara’s attack), "Israeli forces took up a position in the center of al-Zaytoun neighborhood [Gaza] and fired live bullets and artillery shells at Palestinian civilians and civilian property." In addition to four resistance fighters, "four Palestinian civilians, including 3 children, were killed and 4 other civilians, including an ambulance driver, were wounded."

Ali Muna Jaara was another volunteer in the increasingly "atypical" group of Palestinians who have resorted to suicide bombing. The "new bombers" are successful students on the verge of promising careers, men with steady jobs (the rarest of all employment commodities in Occupied Palestine), and even mothers of young children. Frequently apolitical, these quiet, diligent souls leave behind astounded friends and family, blindsided too late by their loved ones' now-evident despair. As we would put it, they just "snap".

Unfortunately for those who wish to exploit them as exemplars of unmitigated evil and hatred, they seldom leave behind evidence of anti-Semitism. Ali Jaara’s posthumous note was typical; the daily slaughter of Israel’s round-the-clock war of occupation finally became too much for a single soul to bear.

We cannot know whether the Almighty will find a pleasing sacrifice in the charred relic of Bus 19. But we cannot help suspecting that, if there is anything like prayer left in this blasted pile of scrap metal, it is the mute plea of Ali Muna Jaara: Please, dear God, please end the Occupation.

James Brooks is a writer, activist, marketer, and webmaster. Articles have been published by numerous web sites covering the Middle East, investigative journalism and politics. He can be reached at: jamiedb@attglobal.net.

Other Articles by James Brooks

* BuSharon and the Logic of War
* Bush to Clarke: Bring it On
* Terror in the Mirror: Denial, Projection, and the Israeli–Arab War 

* Who's Afraid Of International Law?
Israel's New War Machine Opens the Abyss: "We Didn't Know" Will Be No Excuse

* Deep Roots of Islamophobia

* Bad Cop, Really Bad Cop

* This War Could Cost You Your SUV

* 35 Years Late To Stop The War

* The Day The War Starts

* Veto

* Send Hans Blix to Nes Ziona: Palestinian Civilians Attacked with Poison Gas
* Saddam is Monica: The Scandal the Scuttled Colin Powell's Case
* We The People: Deluded, Armed and Dangerous in the Middle East
* The Israelization of America