Facing Terrorism Head On
A mangled monument to the dangerous times in which we live can be found in a gritty industrial neighborhood in the outer reaches of the San Fernando Valley.
Hidden behind stacks of crates and a tarp sits the twisted carcass of Bus No. 37, which a Palestinian suicide bomber destroyed in a March attack in Haifa that killed 17 and injured 53, mostly children. Victims included Jews, Muslims and Christians.
The red-and-white Mercedes bus no longer has windows and is missing two-thirds of its roof. A tangle of torn and frayed seats litter the vehicle’s floor, which is pockmarked with large holes. A children’s notebook is strewn among the wreckage, along with a pen, blue denim shirt, purse and two tiny baby socks decorated with cats.
Death feels palpable. After a few moments, an onlooker must avert his gaze.
That’s why Bernie Massey hopes to have the remains of Bus No. 37 placed atop a flatbed truck. He envisions having the mangled vehicle carted around Los Angeles on the first stop of a planned North American and European tour called Project Human Rights.
To highlight the scourge of international terror, the ruined bus would travel alongside a truck outfitted with two large movie screens. On them, bloody scenes of recent carnage in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and other countries would play continuously.
“We want people to bombard politicians, international organizations and world bodies to vigorously repudiate terrorism and delegitimize any group employing terror as a tactic,” said Massey, 44, the producer who has worked on the project for over a year with his artist brother, Ed Massey. “That page has to be ripped right out of the playbook.”
The Massey brothers’ message is clear: A premeditated attack on civilians for political, religious or nationalist reasons is always wrong — no matter the group, no matter the cause — period.
For more than a decade, Bernie Massey and his sibling have unveiled several public art projects that have ruffled feathers. One campaign against sexual assault featured a sculpture of a crumpled-up rape victim writhing on the floor in pain.
Less controversial, the Massey brothers brought together thousands of schoolchildren and pediatric patients to paint colorful flowers on vinyl fabric panels. The artwork was wrapped around the petroleum tower at Beverly Hills High School.
Standing in his studio amid colorful sculptures and paintings, Bernie Massey said he expects some people to discredit or politicize his project.
Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said his organization condemns all attacks on civilians.
That said, blanket condemnations of terror are simplistic because context counts. He said many Palestinians think Israelis over 16 are legitimate targets because they are trained to be part of the national reserves, which “participate in the occupation, humiliation and killing of Palestinians.”
Ayloush also said the anti-terror project fails to condemn state-sponsored terrorism and could be seen as propaganda.
“If you bring a bus from Israel, the implication is that Israel is the victim and Palestinians are the aggressor,” he said. “This certainly [is] not true. Both sides have done things that are not acceptable.”
On the other hand, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) hopes the traveling exhibit will raise awareness about terror attacks in Israel. “Any effort to raise the world’s consciousness to that fact is an effort we can applaud,” said Amanda Susskind, ADL Southwest regional director, adding that her group opposes terror everywhere.
Project Human Rights comes at a time of mounting global violence. In recent weeks, Al Qaeda and its sympathizers have launched a spate of suicide bombings from Saudi Arabia to Iraq. Turkey has been hit particularly hard, with twin synagogue bombings in Istanbul, followed five days later with same-day attacks against the British consulate and the headquarters of a British bank.
To be sure, terror has existed for decades. However, it has become far more lethal with the ascendancy of militant Islamic groups, said James Phillips, research fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.
“The threat is very nihilistic,” he said. “They hope to inflict as many casualties as possible to recruit new foot soldiers. They see our values as a contaminant to their radical vision of Islam.”
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States has undertaken an array of actions to protect the nation. In March, President Bush created the Department of Homeland Security, the most significant transformation of the U.S. government in over a half-century, bringing together 22 agencies under its umbrella. Federal funding to combat terrorism has dramatically increased.
That heightened vigilance notwithstanding, “the threat is still there,” said Homeland Security spokeswoman Rachael Sunbarger.
A single blown up Israeli bus touring the country will not put an end to terror, but it could make a positive contribution, said Daniel Byman, an assistant professor at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.
“For many people, terror, like other forms of suffering, is abstract,” he said. “It’s hard for them to grasp the horror. Something more visceral like this does have an impact by making it more real.”
Yariv Ovadia, spokesman for the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles, agreed. “The project will expose the ugly face of global terror,” he said. “Terrorists and bombers don’t distinguish whether you’re Jewish, Muslim or Christian. There is no justification for killing innocent people.”
The idea of using a bombed-out bus to galvanize the masses appealed to Bernie Massey on several levels. As a symbol of international transportation, a bus would resonate with all who saw it. The vehicle’s charred and twisted remains might prompt governments internationally to sign a treaty repudiating terror, much as world leaders agreed 75 years ago to outlaw chemical weapons, he said.
And while it would be impossible to move a destroyed marketplace or government building around the country, he continued, a badly damaged bus could be shuttled between cities.
A year and a half ago, Ed Massey built a small-scale model of a damaged bus atop a miniature flatbed. Satisfied that such an exhibit could be mounted, his brother began searching for a blown-up vehicle — a daunting task because most governments quickly dispose of them after attacks.
Bernie Massey considered an Egyptian tour bus but concluded its height would make it difficult to transport. Through an acquaintance, he hooked up with an Israeli bus company with three destroyed vehicles in its possession.
Flying to Israel in late May, Massey found one that met his specifications: under 13 1Â¼2 feet high and narrower than 102 inches, it could fit on a flatbed truck and occupy only a single lane.
Massey paid about $1,500 for the Israeli bus, the price of scrap. Between delays on the Israeli side because of a nationwide strike and a long layover in U.S. Customs, the bus didn’t make it to Southern California until August. “We didn’t know what we were getting, whether this thing had fallen apart in transit,” Massey said.
It hadn’t. So he and his brother moved quickly to raise money to brace, bracket and fortify the damaged bus. The Masseys tapped their many contacts and generated $200,000, enough to hire structural engineers, technicians and a team of journalists, including a former Boston Globe reporter and CNN producer, to develop content for the exhibit. The Masseys must quickly raise $1.3 million from businesses, foundations and individual donors to launch the project by spring.
Bernie Massey said he thought history was on his side.
“We want to help change the world’s culture of acceptance about terror. It’s a pretty ambitious goal, but I do believe change is possible,” he said.
“If you look back to the 1950s and 1960s, we had terror in the United States done by the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists. There was significant cultural acceptance at that time. Boom, 40 years later, look how far we’ve come as a country.”
For more information about Project Human Rights, visit