Quite possibly, the worst job in the world....
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The words "terrorist attack" on his
pager are enough to send Shlomo Brom scrambling for his rubber
gloves, tweezers and a spatula before rushing off to join the
rescue effort at the scene of yet another suicide bombing.
Brom is one of 604 ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who volunteer
their time to painstakingly collect every piece of human flesh
and mop up every last drop of blood after Palestinian suicide
Brom's pager has rung incessantly since Palestinian
militants escalated their suicide bombing campaign after the
outbreak of an uprising for independence two years ago.
Dressed in their trademark yellow vests, the volunteers of
the Israeli group known as Zaka have become a fixture at the
scenes of suicide bombings.
Armed with tweezers, they climb ladders to collect scraps
of flesh from street lamps or trees or scrape fragments of
internal organs and congealed blood off the ground.
A Hebrew acronym for Identification of Disaster Victims,
Zaka is comprised of ultra-religious men committed to ensuring
that as much of the human body of every victim is buried in
accordance with Jewish law.
"I can't take the main part of a person's body and leave
the rest there as if it is wreckage. It's part of a human
being," said Brom from the Zaka burial society's Jerusalem
office. "The Bible says man is created in the image of God."
The bodies of the victims are often intermingled with the
remains of the Palestinian bomber who blew up in their midst.
But in death everyone is treated with the same reverence by the
Zaka volunteers -- victim and bomber.
"You have to pick up a baby's head and the pacifier is
still in its mouth... And then two minutes later you have to
clean up the body of the terrorist, the one who came and saw
the baby and blew himself up," said Brom with a shudder.
"But the Bible wants us to treat them equally so we must
also respect the terrorist's body which is very difficult. It's
not up to us to judge. It's up to God."
Not only do Brom and his fellow Zaka volunteers collect and
label each piece of human remains at the scene of the attack
but they later reassemble them to ensure that as much of each
victim's body is handed over to the family for burial.
The grisly task often involves poring through bags of human
remains in search of missing limbs or fingers and large chunks
of unidentifiable flesh.
It is one of the most gruesome jobs in the world.
Brom has seen it all.
But his most harrowing experience to date was attending the
scene of a suicide bombing in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of
Jerusalem in March in which nine people, including five
children, were killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber.
"The bodies were so mutilated that we had to do DNA test on
all 10 to identify them ... because the suicide bomber got in
the middle of them and blew himself up," said Brom.
A resident of the Beit Yisrael neighborhood where the
bombing took place, Brom was the first person at the scene of
the blast. He remembers administering first aid to the dying
until the ambulances arrived.
But his most horrific memory was collecting the mutilated
remains of a baby girl from her pram.
"Since the Palestinian Intifada (uprising) began, we don't
have time to have nightmares," said Brom.
Brom is the only unmarried Zaka volunteer, all of whom come
from the close-knit ultra-Orthodox world. Usually married men
are recruited as they are believed to be more emotionally
mature to deal with the trauma.
The side-by-side cooperation between the ultra-religious
Zaka volunteers and secular medics, police and other officials
is rare in Israel where tension between secular Jews and
tight-knit Orthodox Jews is the norm.
Not surprisingly, 80 percent of volunteers drop out of Zaka
before they can complete the course, in which they learn
forensic techniques for collecting body parts, first aid and
undergo psychological training.
It is not uncommon that a volunteer will arrive at his
first death scene, take one look and run away.
Zaka, which in 2001 was voted the United Nations volunteer
organization of the year, also attends the scenes of car
accidents, suicides and murders and almost every other kind of
IDENTIFYING THE DEAD
When all they can find are piles of mangled flesh at bomb
scenes, the Zaka volunteers work with the families to identify
their loved ones from clothes or jewelry they were wearing, or
scars and other markings that can be used for identification.
"Everybody wants his entire body to be buried, with all the
body parts. He wants to get buried as he was born," said
U.S.-born Yossi Landau, the owner of an international freight
business and a Zaka volunteer.
Landau once had to identify a baby killed by a Palestinian
suicide bomber in an attack on a Jerusalem pizzeria in August
2001 by a piece of flesh found on the baby's pacifier. It was
the only thing that remained of the child.
The pieces of flesh that cannot be identified are buried in
a mass grave along with the blood-soaked clothes used to mop up
the blood and the stained glove of the rescue workers. Every
last scrap of blood-stained matter from the scene is buried.
"If you don't have respect for the dead, you don't have
respect for life," said Landau.
After attending the scene of a suicide bombing, the
volunteers assemble for a debriefing to share their experiences
so they will not take their trauma home to their families.
"One of the very hard parts in Zaka is the psychology,"
said Brom. "There is no training that ensures you'll be able to
deal with a baby that has been torn into 10 pieces...(But)
there are a few things that make it easy. You have to work with
the mind and not emotion," he said.
Some volunteers become so used to the technical nature of
their work that they are able to block out the horror.
But the psychological barrier comes down the next day when
they open the newspaper and see the life stories and
photographs of the victims in happier times plastered across
"Instead of the smiling picture, I see a piece of finger
which was used to identify that person or I see their ear with
an earring the family confirmed belonged to her," said Brom.
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12-11-2002, 08:16 AM #1
Terrorist Act! Notify EMS, Police, Fire, Rescue and the Body CollectorsProudly serving as the IACOJ Minister of Information & Propoganda!
Be Safe! Lookouts-Awareness-Communications-Escape Routes-Safety Zones
*Gathering Crust Since 1968*
On the web at www.section2wildfire.com
12-11-2002, 08:51 AM #2
- Join Date
- Jun 2000
- 911 N. Sycamore St. Yep, that's really our address.
Regardless of your political beliefs, you have to agree that there is a special place in heaven (or whatever afterlife you believe in) for these people....Omnis Cedo Domus
12-11-2002, 09:13 AM #3
12-11-2002, 09:26 AM #4
- Join Date
- Nov 2001
You're right Jaybird, these people deserve special status. To overcome years of acrimony, religious prejudice and just plain out revulsion over such an act, and treat the terrorist with respect and reverence is indeed a saintly calling.
Members of Zaka, you have my utmost respect.
12-11-2002, 12:52 PM #5
That is selfless unconditional love.
An outstanding group of individuals.Psychiatrists state 1 in 4 people has a mental illness.
Look at three of your friends, if they are ok, your it.
12-11-2002, 01:08 PM #6
The worst job in the world?....I can't think of anything that would be much worse. Might be one thing to have to do this at a plane crash or other mass casualty, but how often does that happen in one country? These people do it constantly! Tip of the leather and a prayer to Zaka.
12-11-2002, 11:34 PM #7
- Join Date
- Apr 2000
If I'm not mistaken there might be an offshoot of Zaka in NYC. I remember a few years ago there was a multiple shooting in a heavily Jewish neighborhood- the news report showed several Ultra Orthodox- looking men in reflective vests picking through the scene with gloves and such. Anybody from NYC to confirm that?
12-12-2002, 08:31 AM #8
Amazing...simply amazing.May we never forget our fallen, worldwide.
I.A.C.O.J. Safety/Traffic Control Officer
"Who's Who Among American Teachers" - 2005, 2006 Honoree
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