Father wounded by shrapnel saving children at son’s party

Seven mortar shells struck inside the small kibbutz in the Eshkol region, a short distance from the Gaza border.

A MORTAR SHELL created this crater in the middle of an alternative medicine center in the Eshkol regional council. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A MORTAR SHELL created this crater in the middle of an alternative medicine center in the Eshkol regional council.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A father celebrating his son’s birthday in a daycare center was hit in the back by shrapnel as he pushed the small children in the room away from the window on Thursday morning around 10.
Seven mortar shells struck inside the small kibbutz in the Eshkol region, a short distance from the Gaza border, including one that slammed through the roof of an alternative medicine center, creating a crater-like hole in the floor.
“Luckily, no one was in the building at the time,” said Asaf Artal, a kibbutz administrator, as he stood in the center’s large waiting room, filled with glass shards from the windows. Sandy rubble covered the floor and the furniture, some of which was now overturned.
A number of other kibbutz buildings were also damaged, including the dairy farm, Artal said, as he walked outside and over to a lawn in front of two daycare buildings.
But the real damage came from the shell that hit near a tree on this lawn, he said.
He showed The Jerusalem Post how a piece of shrapnel had flown from that mortar shell and through an open window into an otherwise protected space in one of the daycares.
“No one realized the window was open,” Artal said, but the father still instinctively pushed the children away and helped them lie on the floor. As he did that, he was wounded.
“He helped save them, but he himself was hurt,” said Artal, and added that the father is recovering in Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba after surgery.
Many of the 300 people on the kibbutz had left in July during as a result of Operation Protective Edge and had returned just when the cease-fire broke down and mortar shells came again, said Artal.
The kibbutz is plans to send families away for the weekend, and already about 40 have left, he said.
The small community of one-family homes was already very quiet on Thursday and very few residents were outside.
One old man on a bicycle said not everyone was panicking.
“There are people who are staying,” he said, as he peddled away.
Ronit Minaker, a spokeswoman for the Eshkol Regional Council, said that since June 29 more than 1,030 small rockets and mortar shells, including more than 100 in the last couple of days, have been shot into the region, where there are no outdoor warning sirens.
On Thursday, mortar shells stuck in five of the seven communities directly on the Gaza border, she said.
The time frame for people to find safety is around 10 to 15 seconds, she said.
Eighty percent of the residents went away in July, she said.
Meanwhile, at a Gaza border moshav in the Hof Ashkelon region, Adi Ben-Ari bid farewell to her 11-year-old son Yoav on Wednesday for the second time this summer.
The single mother, who works on her moshav’s emergency response team, brought Yoav to friends in the center of the country a short time after the war began in July, because “he was at the end of his rope,” she said.
“He wouldn’t leave the safe room, he wouldn’t go anywhere.”
She didn’t want to leave her home and she didn’t want her son to stay.
“I spent the whole time working in the war room. It felt more secure and easier somehow than wandering around the country with my son, not knowing what was happening,” Ben-Ari said.
As the war dragged on, Ben-Ari took her son to cousins in the North.
The whole time, Ben-Ari wondered, “Should I return my son to the house or not?” After almost a week of quiet, she brought him home finally on Saturday night after a six-week absence.
Four days later, and two days after the ceasefire ended, on Wednesday afternoon, a rocket hit the roof of her neighbor’s home and broke in two.
Half of it bounced into her backyard and lodged just outside her porch, shattering the windows on the side of her home, including the large one in the living room.
“We had just returned to normal,” said Ben-Ari as she stood in her damaged living room, which was filled with hundreds of glass shards.
“He [Yoav] had finally come home. I hadn’t brought him home earlier, only now,” she said. “I thought we were at the end and there would be an agreement.”
The renewed violence has been more difficult, because people had just started to relax thinking the worst was over. Now they are debating again whether to leave, she said.
By the time she woke up Wednesday morning she understood her hopes that the war was over were in vain. She brought Yoav to the moshav’s war room, sent him to a friend’s home and from there to relatives in the North.
Her first thought when she walked into her damaged home was, “What luck that Yoav was not here in the house. He could have been. It was just luck that he was not.
“I never thought it would come so close,” she added.
On Wednesday, there were 37 warning sirens in her moshav, but only one rocket caused damage. But residents had to race for cover several times an hour.
On Thursday, there were 10 warning sirens, and another rocket that hit next to a few homes. Some 50 of the moshav’s 230 families have already left again, she said.
Our biggest problem is the lack of knowing what is happening and what will happen.
“We expect Israel to decide what it wants to do already. So that we won’t continue to live like this,” she said.
One Eshkol resident, Anat Heffetz, said she wasn’t leaving anything to chance. A few weeks ago she began the Movement for the Future of the Western Negev to pressure the government to find a long-term solution for Gaza.
On Friday, she and other Gaza border residents plan to rally in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem and demand answers. They plan to leave an invitation for him to come to the South to see the situation for himself.
“We want the prime minister to talk to us and tell us what his strategy is,” she said.