Tragedy Avoided as Grad Hits Empty Be'er Sheva Classroom

"If we had not canceled classes many students still would not have come to school, but this class would have been full. There would have been a huge tragedy if there were children here," said Dr. Ruth Frankel, who is in charge of education in the Be'er Sheva municipality, speaking after a school in the center of the city was hit by a rocket yesterday.

The school suffered a direct hit on a classroom yesterday around 8 A.M. However, because of the decision to cancel school in Be'er Sheva no one was hurt. The classroom suffered heavy damage, but the principal, Gila Belaish, said: "The real work will start when we return to class, the work with the students. The studies don't worry me. The question will be how to rehabilitate the students from an emotional standpoint, how to identify children with anxiety and and how to deal with it," she said.

A short time after the missile struck, the teachers started to call their students. "It is impossible to ignore the shock, but overall our impression is that the children are calm," said Belaish. Ruth Shenhav, a teacher who is responsible for ninth grade at the school, said: "The students' emotional strength is surprising sometimes. I did not hear hysteria or crying, but an attitude that it was lucky that we were not in school when it happened."

A day after the rockets reached Be'er Sheva, the streets were emptier than usual. There were not as many cars on the road, shopping centers had fewer shoppers and many students from Ben Gurion University took the first train back to the center of the country. "Our parents are calling all day long because they are stressed out and we are not used to such a situation in Be'er Sheva ... and we are somewhat worried and therefore we are going home," said Roi, who was on his way home to his parents in Ra'anana.

Miriam joined the university students on the train. She is a Be'er Sheva resident who decided to get as far away as possible from the threat - and was on her way to Ma'alot, all the way in the Upper Galilee. "I'm scared," she said, "I took my children with me and I am going to relatives. I don't want to take any unnecessary chances," she said.

Despite the short distance between Be'er Sheva and Sderot, only now are Be'er Sheva residents beginning to understand what their neighbors suffered for years. "When I hear a plane or siren I immediately become frightened. Until now I did not understand the significance of those suffering from anxiety. I'm sorry I only now understand," said Gila, a Be'er Sheva resident. She said she had prepared for a completely different scenario: "I had planned on offering my family from one of the moshavim near Sderot to come and stay with us, but now maybe I need to go stay with them," she said.

After the Home Front Command decided to expand the area where schools were closed to include Be'er Sheva and other surrounding towns, the number of pupils staying home from school reached about 190,000. The Education Ministry said there were 120,000 users logging in to the Internet sites of schools in the south, but the use of computerized distance learning is still far from universal.