Parents Furious as Rocket Strikes 'Children Left Like Ducks in a Range'

At about 8:30 A.M., the Cohens' pick-up truck shrieked to a halt in the parking lot of the Zikim military base. The two parents were upset after their son, Yitzik, a fresh conscript at the base, called them in the middle of the night and told them that a Qassam rocket had hit Zikim.

"My son will not come back to the army. Period. He will sit in prison but will not come back here," Benny Cohen said. "For God's sake. They bring children, children who just yesterday finished school, and they put them in tents without any protection."

His wife sat next to him, weeping silently. Her son is due back at the base for more training early next week.

Dozens of families received similar phone calls from their children during the night and came to Zikim yesterday. Their offspring had just finished their first month of basic training; many of those injured by the rockets were new conscripts.

"I did not hear the warning 'Color Red,'" said one of the soldiers yesterday who had been sleeping in a tent less than one hundred meters from where the rocket hit. "Many people did not hear it. Perhaps it was not very loud or guys were deep asleep. I heard only the whistle [of the rocket]. The whistle was scary. And for a few seconds I was sure that the rocket was about to fall on me. And then there was a huge blast. The tents just flew up in the air. There was shouting, a huge mess. We could not sleep the whole night. I was lucky, because there are cement walls protecting my platoon's tents so we had no one injured."

The soldier says that he and his colleagues have become used to the Color Red alarms, warning of pending Qassam rocket strikes. "When there are Color Red warnings, you need to reach the parade ground in 20 seconds - it's protected there - but we don't always make it. What always scares me are warnings of possible rocket barrages, because then the chances of getting hit is much greater. I have always said that you need to be really unlucky for a single rocket to strike the base directly and cause so much damage."

In the corridors of Barzilai Medical Center, Ashkelon, wounded soldiers milled about in the early morning hours, going from one room to the next, receiving treatment from more than 100 hospital staff rushed on duty. One soldier lay on a bed, waiting for an X-ray, while the other waited to be examined.

"How did this happen to us the day before we were about to complete our basic training?" they wondered. "I was lightly injured," one said, "in the foot, and I was lucky." His friend was less fortunate. He was hit in his back but he was convinced that "we were all lucky. It fell on an empty tent. Imagine what would have happened otherwise."

Last Thursday, the conscripts' end-of-basic-training ceremony was held at the base, with thousands of parents and relatives present. "There were thousands here without protection. What would have happened had a Qassam landed? Where would all the elderly and relatives have gone [for cover]?" wondered Yaakov Ravino, a Nahariya resident whose son, Roi, suffered from shock.

Ravino said his son had told him that after he completed guard duty, he returned to his tent and then Color Red was called. "He started to run toward the mess hall, I think. His shoe fell off and he bent over to fix it and he said the missile flew over him. He felt the heat of the rocket over him."

The parents have a lot of complaints. Many keep repeating that "they are just kids who only recently completed school. My son called me crying. He has been terrified for three weeks now. I spoke with his officer but no one cares," Zevulun Ovadia from Ra'anana says.

"How is it that a camp for conscripts is situated in such a dangerous area, on the border, like ducks in a shooting range, without protection for their tents?" he wondered. He said that the conscripts only military training in a month was the 50 or so bullets they fired at the range.

Tempers flared as the parents, standing in the sun, were told that their children would be bused to the Central Bus Station in Ashkelon, and they could pick them up there. Some wanted to break into the base, but in the end the buses drove off with the young conscripts.