The concrete walls of the preschool at Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha still bear reminders of the previous round of fighting in Gaza. Dozens of holes made by shrapnel from mortar fire have yet to be repaired, making the building look more like a historic site from the War of Independence than a preschool.
On Tuesday, just half an hour before the children arrived, a mortar shell from Gaza fell in the yard of the preschool.
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“When it falls near a preschool, you always say ‘Thank God there were no children around.’ But it’s impossible to know what will happen next time,” said Bertha Selvin, who has lived on this kibbutz in southern Israel for 28 years. Selvin’s grandchildren attend the preschool where the mortar fell.
Though residents of the community are trying to maintain their daily routine, they were hard pressed to hide the degree to which their lives have been disrupted on Tuesday. Kibbutz spokeswoman Meirav Cohen said most children had arrived as usual to the fortified preschool, but the situation was anything but normal as evidenced by the masses of policemen and soldiers, Gaza Division officers and personnel from the regional council and the Education Ministry mulling about.
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A municipal official from one Gaza-area community said that the incident had shaken residents of the region. Even in communities where no alarm sounded, people had been calling the local Hosen Center, which provides psychological, emotional and social work support to residents who have been hurt in attacks or need preventive treatment.
“Some of the students didn’t come to school at all,” the official added. “Their parents didn’t send them.”
According to the Education Ministry, the children arrived “gradually,” so that by the end of the day, attendance was at 90 percent – close to the average on normal days.
Gadi Yarkoni, head of the Eshkol Regional Council, which includes Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, said that the fact that the mortar fell at around the time the school buses were running had had a major impact on parents.
By 11 A.M., the regional council’s Hosen Center was almost empty of professional staff. “They all left to deal with incidents outside,” the secretary said.
Yarkoni said he hoped Tuesday’s incident didn’t mark the start of another round of rocket attacks from Gaza.
“But I think they [in Gaza] will understand the Israel Defense Forces’ response, the results of which we’ll see in the coming days,” he added. “They’ll understand that it’s a waste [for them]. Because in this paradigm, we have the upper hand by a wide margin.”
Residents of communities near Gaza aren’t the only ones who suffered from anxiety on Tuesday.
Hamdan Kanani, 52, of the Bedouin town of Rahat, has been working for the past several months in Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha and nearby Kissufim. He started at 6 A.M. in Kissufim, driving heavy construction vehicles for an infrastructure project. But an hour after he arrived, the alarm sounded and a rocket fell nearby.
“There were five people here, it was frightening,” he said, showing photographs of a fragment of the fallen rocket that he took. “It was a very big blast.”
Since there’s no shelter readily accessible for the workers, they ran to the kibbutz’s swimming pool. “We ran there fast, in fear, because there’s no place to hide here,” he said. “We broke down the fence there, because everything was locked, and we went in and hid.”