Although the third Hamas-Israel ceasefire is still in effect, Sderot schoolchildren began the 2009 school year both excited and yet apprehensive.
Two days before the doors to Sderot’s nine schools opened, two aerial attacks from Gaza triggered the city’s rocket warning system known as the Color Red siren, and sent residents racing for a shelter on Sunday evening, August 30.
“I was scared but not surprised,” says Rotem, a 16-year-old Sderot student, beginning eleventh grade at a local Sderot high school. “We know that the rocket attacks will begin again and I don’t think that anyone here really believes that the quiet will last. We’ve lived here [in Sderot] long enough to know that,” she says.
Video: Meital Ohayon
Dina Huri, principal of a Sderot elementary school, made sure that the opening school year would offer everything for her first to sixth grade students and that also included upgrading the school shelters against future rocket attacks.
“During the summer, I had the 3 school bomb shelters transformed into “kid-friendly” shelters,” she says. Huri had the shelter painted in bright colors and installed rugs so that the children would feel more comfortable. Huri doesn’t remember the exact date of when the shelters were first installed– “they have been around for a while”–but she says that the original concrete grey slabs made children feel like they were imprisoned. “Last year, every time the siren blared, the students had to run into these concrete structures, wondering when they could leave. Now these shelters are places that the students want to play in.”
In any case, Sderot residents had another reason to expect rocket fire on the opening day of this school year.
Photo: Rotem with her mother, September 2, 2009
Photographer: Jacob Shrybman
Two years ago, 10 Qassam rockets slammed in and around Sderot, throughout the first week of the September 2007 school year. One rocket landed between a Sderot daycare center and elementary school, where 12 kindergarten children were hospitalized for shock at Ashkelon’s Barzilai hospital.
Iranian-backed, Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for that rocket attack, proclaiming them “a present for the start of the new school year,” on the terror group’s website.
Sixteen-year-old Rotem stated that she was surprised that rockets had not been fired at Sderot on the first day of school. “I woke up in the morning expecting to hear the siren. It is strange–instead of being surprised by rocket attacks, I am surprised when there are no rockets. I thought for sure they would want to destroy the excitement of the first day of school.”
In recent days, Palestinian terror groups have increased terror activities, with mortar and Qassam rockets being fired towards Israel for three straight days. On Saturday morning, August 29, a rocket exploded in the western Negev and on August 24, an Israeli soldier was injured by a Gaza mortar.
Two weeks before, on August 10, two mortar rockets were fired at the Erez Crossing, just yards away from ambulances transferring a Palestinian heart patient to Israel, according to the Jerusalem Post. Palestinians suffering from illness cross almost daily into Israel for treatment through the Erez Crossing, the major crossing point for Palestinians entering Israel.
Dina Huri says that she and her staff continue to pray for a quiet year for everyone. “Today our students sent balloons up into the air with Jewish New Year messages calling for a peaceful year for all of us in this region.”
I recently heard Noam address a group in Australia regarding the state of affairs in Sderot, including the lack of funds for the trauma centers and the ongoing stress, fearing more rocket and kassam fire.
Please know that we, a small group of people, will be praying specifically for you all in Sderot. How can we help? What can we do?