Rain pelted the tangled metal that was once a bus in Jerusalem as it sat on a lush lawn of Yeshivat Rambam in Northwest Baltimore yesterday.
Despite the downpour, curious passers-by, neighborhood residents and families with children in tow stopped along Park Heights Avenue to view the No. 19 bus destroyed by a Palestinian suicide bomber.
The bus was blown apart Jan. 29 in Jerusalem, in an explosion that killed 11 people and injured 50. It's now part of a national tour sponsored by Christians for Israel, a Washington-based group that wants Americans to visualize the "terror that Israelis face on a daily basis."
"As Christians we look at the conflict in Israel with a biblical context," said the Rev. James Hutchens, president and chairman of Christians for Israel. "This is a spiritual issue for us, not a political one. And as Christians we can heighten the awareness of terrorism without the risk of sounding self-serving."
Hutchens said his group stands for the bonding of religious principles between Christians and Jews, and supports the Israeli position in the long-standing Middle East conflict with the Palestinians.
The group acquired the bus after it was on display in February outside the World Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands, where hearings were taking place on Israel's controversial wall in the West Bank. The court condemned the wall, saying it violates international law because it confiscates Palestinian territory.
On March 6, Christians for Israel began a national tour with a viewing of the bus at the Capitol in Washington. The tour will continue with visits to Atlanta, New York, Virginia Beach, Va., and other cities.
The tour has evoked heightened emotions on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian debate. In some cities, the group has been greeted by protests from Palestinian groups and others.
"They say, 'Shame on you. Why don't you bring a house destroyed in Gaza?'" said Hutchens, referring to the Israeli-occupied Palestinian area in the Gaza Strip. "But we support Israel."
Yesterday's visitors were mostly Jewish, but views on the conflict differed.
Some walked up the steps of the bus and looked inside its windowless frame. Rows of seats in the back half of the bus had collapsed and wires appeared ripped from above where the windows used to be.
"You are seeing the continued suffering of Jewish people that has been going on for thousands of years," said Lee Lowenstein of Baltimore, who brought three sons to see the bus. "I want my kids to see what we are up against every day."
Howard Greenberg of Owings Mills, who, unlike Christians for Israel, expressed support for the creation of a Palestinian state, said seeing the bus in person made him realize how bad the violence in the Middle East had become in recent years.
"We went to Israel on our honeymoon in 1971 and stayed in Arab hotels," he said. "Now we can't do that anymore because of the violence. It really is a shame."