- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 19, 2002

JERUSALEM Rachamim Tzikiyahu, whose first name means "mercy," was behind the wheel of Egged Bus Number 32 yesterday morning only because he volunteered to fill in for a colleague who was late for work.

His death in the latest terror bombing was a reminder that driving a bus has become perhaps the most dangerous job in Israel.

Mr. Tzikiyahu, 51 and father of four, had come to work extra-early with the hope of getting home in time to watch a World Cup soccer match on television.

His neighbors said yesterday he had been a lifelong believer in peace with the Arabs. A coroner said yesterday that the bomb that killed him had left his body riddled with quarter-inch metal balls.

Many bus drivers, who consider themselves front-line fighters in the war on terrorism, have been luckier than Mr. Tzikiyahu, spotting the attackers before they detonated their bombs and managing to subdue them or chase them off.

The drivers have learned to scrutinize their passengers as they step in, searching their bags if necessary, and making snap decisions that are literally a matter of life and death.

A driver for the same national bus company described how he prevented a suicide bomber from boarding his vehicle near Mehola, in the Jordan Valley.

"I immediately realized that there was something wrong with the young man who was dressed in a heavy black coat," said Shalom Drey.

"When he tried to get on the bus I got out of my seat and pushed him back toward the street. I shouted to the passengers to lie down on the floor of the bus. I leaped back into my seat and started driving away as fast as possible."

Seconds later, the Palestinian man blew himself up in the street. No one died except the bomber.

"Since then, I examine each passenger before he boards the bus," said Mr. Drey. "This is the reality of our life. Bus drivers are now forced to work also as security guards. It's a very big responsibility."

Yossi Ben-Yosef, a driver with Egged for 30 years, said that being a target was nothing new.

"Ever since the establishment of Israel, buses have been a favorite target for the terrorists. They started targeting buses back in the early '50s, killing many passengers and drivers," he said.

"My grandchildren sometimes tell me that it's time for me to quit because of the risks. But I tell them that we must never succumb to the terror.

"I know that our job is now one of the most dangerous in the country, but we have no choice but to continue leading our normal lives. If we give in today, within a short time we will no longer have a state."

Legendary among Israeli bus drivers is Micky Harel, who achieved a sort of fame two weeks ago when he survived his fourth encounter with a suicide bomber since October.

On June 5, a bomber pulled alongside Mr. Harel's bus in a stolen minivan packed with an estimated 200 pounds of explosives.

The blast reduced Mr. Harel's bus to a smoking skeleton and took the lives of at least 16 Israelis, most of them soldiers. Mr. Harel miraculously escaped death, receiving only minor cuts to his face and hands. He pulled several of the victims to safety before being overcome by the flames.

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