With the ongoing rift between ZAKA and Israel Police, ZAKA representatives met with Rabbi David Cohen, the dean of the Hebron Yeshiva and a leading haredi rabbi, to discuss the organization's activities in the future.
ZAKA is a haredi volunteer organization which is chiefly known for its respectful treatment of the dead in accordance with Jewish Law, which requires, among other things, that all parts of a deceased person's body be buried with him. In cases of terrorist attacks such as the bombing at the entrance to Jerusalem two weeks ago, this can involve removing blood from the ground, retrieving all blood-stained items, and searching the surrounding area in minute detail to ensure that all parts of a slain person's body are buried together. ZAKA is also usually called in by police in tragic cases where people are found deceased in their homes some time after their passing, when dealing with the decomposed remains requires special sensitivity and skill.
Following the double bombing in Jerusalem several weeks ago, a dispute emerged between Israel Police and ZAKA, regarding authorization to operate within the sealed zone around the terrorist bombing. ZAKA officials, as is their usual practice, were at the scene to collect all necessary objects for burial, wearing their trademark yellow vests with the ZAKA logo emblazoned upon them. Present were ZAKA's director, Dov Weisenstern, and the Jerusalem coordinator, Benzion Oering; both have now been suspended from the police force, within which ZAKA technically operates, allegedly due to having breached recently implemented regulations which forbid the wearing of ZAKA vests during such operations.
Israel Police is now also demanding that ZAKA volunteers re-enlist in Israel Police and operate as police volunteers subordinate to police orders, rather than being subordinate to the Jewish Laws that regulate their holy work. Failure to do so could lead to ZAKA volunteers being barred from entering the secured zone around terrorist attack scenes and from engaging in many other aspects of their volunteer work.
During their meeting with Rabbi Cohen, ZAKA volunteers described the situation and also noted the scrupulous attention given to following Jewish Law in treating the dead with the proper respect. ZAKA volunteers are in constant contact with rabbinic advisors when complex questions arise; the recent dispute with the police threatens to overturn decades of effective cooperation and actually make it impossible to fulfill the demands of Jewish Law with regard to respecting the dead.
"G-d will bless you with success in your holy work protecting the honor of the dead," responded Rabbi Cohen as he blessed the volunteers.
ZAKA has made ongoing attempts to reach an understanding with Israel Police but has been rebuffed at every turn. In their response to ZAKA's complaints, Israel Police released a statement saying that, "Israel Police is constantly working for the safety and security of the citizens of Israel. The role and mission of the police forces is a particularly complex task and often involves making complex decisions when above all, preserving human life.
"With regard to attack or crime scenes, the response is managed by Israel Police, which approves the entry of various people or entities into these scenes ... it has been decided that only those authorized by the police and acting fully and precisely according to police orders will enter this type of arena.
"Israel Police respects the actions of various organizations and values their accumulated experience and calls, but these organizations may only act in accordance with official police procedures...
"With regard to the [terrorist] incident in Jerusalem ... everyone who was not needed at the scene, including police officers and volunteers from various rescue organizations, was asked to leave the scene until their activities were concluded."