Back to school for students in South
"We're not scared and we won't let them disrupt our lives," pupils studying in range of Hamas rockets say.
Even with the continuous booms of air strikes in Gaza rattling the windows, a handful of pupils at Beersheba's Makif Alef High School were back in class on Sunday, studying in fortified rooms and underground shelters.
Less than two weeks ago, the high school was hit dead-on by a Grad rocket that left a gaping hole in the ceiling of an upstairs 10th grade classroom and caused extensive damage to other parts of the building. Classes had been cancelled just hours before that attack, undoubtedly saving a number of lives.
Two missiles rocked the central Negev city early Sunday morning - one landing near a Chabad elementary school and the other striking an electric pole - but the decision to allow 11th and 12th graders back to class was upheld.
An hour later, Makif Alef pupils shuffled past the ongoing repairs on the rocket-damaged wing of their school as they made their way into the safe rooms and shelters where classes were being held.
"We're not scared and we won't let them disrupt our lives," said one of the pupils, Sigal El-Al, as she sat in her history class with eight of her classmates. "We're proud of our soldiers, and we're proud to be back here in school. We're trying to return to normal," she added.
The school's empty courtyards and the constant noise of explosions from Gaza kept normality at bay however. A literature class was being held in an underground shelter, while El-Al's history class was being held in the fortified music room.
The number of students at Makif Alef numbered in the dozens - a fraction of the hundreds that attend the school on a normal day, and one teacher said she was not surprised that many of her students had simply stayed home.
"They're scared," she said. "This is a scary time." But the students who had braved the ongoing rocket fire said they had done so not out of a love for schoolwork, but the feeling that they had to move on with their lives.
"We have to show them that we're not scared," said Idan Peretz, who said he was to be drafted into the army this summer. "I want to go to Golani, especially after seeing how well they've been fighting over there. I say, they shouldn't stop this thing until they bring back Gilad Schalit," Peretz said.
In Sderot, hundreds of children were back in class, as the Home Front Command had given permission for school to be held in communities that lay within seven kilometers of Gaza.
Chana Oved said she wanted to keep her 10-year-old soon Daniel at home, but that after two weeks indoors, he was eager to get out and see his friends.
"I'm scared. I don't want him to go, but he insisted," Oved said, as the boy dragged her into Haroeh Elementary School.
"Usually, he doesn't like to go to school, but this time he does." All of Sderot's schools have been fortified. Haroeh is protected by a concrete roof, and has bomb shelters and a fortified bus station outside. On Sunday, soldiers were stationed at the school to assist the students in case of a siren.
Oved, 48, said she remained worried nonetheless, but at least in school her son would have some kind of distraction. Both were injured by a rocket that landed on their home several years ago and Daniel has suffered from post-traumatic stress symptoms since.
"He's being treated by a psychologist but it's not helping," she said. "He's never been the same." Counselors at his school said the children usually feel safer there among their friends, and the social interaction helps them deal better with the danger surrounding them.
Students and their parents hesitantly trickled in after two weeks of huddling in their homes. Attendance appeared to be sparse, with many students apparently staying home. Four rockets landed in Sderot on Sunday, including one that landed near a school, the army said. There were no injuries.
Education Minister Yuli Tamir said students were returning only to schools with protected areas. She said she hoped a return to school would provide a little structure and routine in a time of great stress and uncertainty for the children.
AP contributed to this report.