A kibbutz in the shadow of Kassams

"I heard a noise like an airplane, then an explosion, and the air was filled with smoke."

kassam kid 248 ap (photo credit: )
kassam kid 248 ap
(photo credit: )
A rocket narrowly missed Dana Bahar as she stood with her infant and three-year-old son Nofar outside the nursery in Kibbutz Be'eri on the Gaza border late Wednesday afternoon. "It was the worst time [for an attack], when all the children were outside," said Bahar. No warning siren heralded the rocket that struck the play area outside the nursery and caused light shrapnel wounds to a 12-year-old girl's shoulder and a toddler's leg. Both girls were rushed to Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba along with the toddler's mother, who was treated for shock. Although five rockets hit outside the kibbutz that morning, Bahar had not been concerned as she arrived to pick up Nofar and to see her sister Einat Mor, who works in the nursery. Bahar wandered around the play area, chitchatting with Nofar about the family festival planned for the dining hall that evening. "We spoke about what they would serve and how there would be balloons," Bahar said. Grateful to be alive but rattled by the experience, she sat a few hours later with her sister and her infant son in the kibbutz dining hall and talked with The Jerusalem Post about their close call. "I heard a noise like an airplane, then an explosion, and the air was filled with smoke," she said. Some 15 rockets have struck the kibbutz in the last two years, so the sisters knew immediately what had happened. They acted on instinct. "We grabbed the children and ran to the nursery," she said. It is one of the few protected areas in the kibbutz. Once inside, Mor, who is five months pregnant, kept placing her hands on her stomach to reassure herself that her unborn child had survived the attack. "I was scared," Mor said, instinctively placing her hand on her belly. Initially there was a shocked calm, and the children began to cry, said Bahar. Panicked parents arrived, looking for their children. Her husband came on his bicycle. This was not a new story for Bahar and Mor, who recalled how a rocket hit near the kibbutz petting zoo recently. "But then I was home," said Mor. Their experience with rockets goes back to the childhood they spent on a kibbutz on the northern border under threat of a different kind of rocket, the Katyusha. Now they are raising a second generation in the same situation. "I came from the Katyusha to the Kassam," said Bahar. Initially she and Mor, who arrived at the kibbutz eight years ago, thought they had escaped the nagging threat of attack. They enjoyed the calm. Within two years, however, that sense of peace was shattered as Gazans began firing rockets at the Negev. "We feel as if we are reliving our childhood," said Bahar. They still recall how they huddled in a shelter during the first Lebanon War as small children. "This is worse because we are worried for our children," said Bahar - and because there is no end in sight. Holding her hands open in the air, she added, "There is a feeling of futility." Then she sighed and asked, "What can we do?" She and Mor sat with their families in the packed dining hall adorned with festive white tablecloths and flowers, even though the room was not protected against rockets. The story, they said, would be the same when they arrived home. Bahar lives on the second floor. "There is no safe place in the building," she said. For comfort, she added, the family would sleep together in the same room that night - but that closeness, of course, would not keep them safe. On Thursday morning she plans to send her son to school as usual, as well as her older son Rotem, 6, even though his classroom is not protected. Mor said a psychologist would likely come to talk with the children and that for safety, they would probably keep them inside during the day. On Wednesday night, the kibbutz's council held an emergency session to discuss the dangers they faced and the lack of protection provided by the government. Kibbutz Secretary Tzvi Allon said that only "luck" had prevented a greater tragedy. Even though rockets have hit the kibbutz before, "this is the first time there are wounded," he said. "It only underscores how dangerous the situation is." Looking at the families around the tables in the dining hall, Allon said, "We had a party here, and if a Kassam were to fall... it's a problem." Politicians call, he said - after Wednesday's attack, he heard from Defense Minister Ehud Barak. But now that the cameras have left and night has fallen, he is left with the same problem: Many of the homes and most of the buildings on the kibbutz lack protection against the rockets. Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.