Ben-Gurion University comes back to life

No sirens as a third of students return to class.

beersheba students bomb shelter 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
beersheba students bomb shelter 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
After a two-week hiatus due to the rockets from Gaza that have rocked the Negev, Beersheba's Ben-Gurion University began showing signs of life on Tuesday, as about a third of the students were allowed to return to class. "Yesterday the campus was completely empty," said BGU President Rivka Carmi, as she and other staff members made the rounds at the university, checking security arrangements and the students' mood. "Now, you can see for yourself, the students are here. They're sitting on the grass talking to their friends. Slowly but surely, we're coming back to life." While no siren sounded in Beersheba on Tuesday, Carmi said the first true test of the university's plan to allow the partial return of students - including undergraduates in their final year, others registered for senior year electives, and those studying for master's and doctoral degrees or in pre-academic courses - would come with the sounding of the first alarm. "Then we'll see what the response is on campus," she said. "But we've prepared for it, we're ready for it and I'm quite certain that the shelters and fortified areas set up for students will suffice." Home Front Command soldiers previously inspected and signed off on all of the fortified classrooms being used on Tuesday, and Carmi said her staff was complying rigorously to the army's instructions. "We also have a number of security personnel patrolling the campus," Carmi said. "They're equipped with beepers to alert them if a siren has gone off, and they will assist the students in getting to a fortified area if need be." Students seemed to be taking their return to class in stride on Tuesday afternoon, strolling around the campus and enjoying the pleasant weather. Nonetheless, the sporadic roar of F-16s heading toward Gaza could be heard in the distance, accompanied moments later by the loud booms from their strikes. "It's not so much that we're scared," said Itay, an undergraduate computer science student. "It's just distracting. The whole reason classes were canceled in the first place was because we were getting three or four sirens a day. It's simply impossible to learn like that." "I'm not scared either," said Orly, a mechanical engineering student in the final year of her undergraduate studies. "But let's just say I'll be scared the moment [a siren] catches me outside." BGU staff told The Jerusalem Post they were excited to have the students back, and felt comfortable with the level of fortification if a siren was heard. "All of these rooms are completely protected," said BGU spokeswoman Faye Bittker, as she walked through an underground corridor of classrooms and study halls. "Most of these old Negev buildings were built like fortresses, and down here, the students won't have to move if a siren goes off. They might not even hear it down here." The only way students in the underground areas would know a siren had been sounded, Bittker said, would be from other the students rushing downstairs to take refuge. Upstairs in the student center, the day seemed to be moving ahead with an air of regularity. Students shuffled in to use computers or buy something from the cafe. "I'm glad to be back," said Shlomi Tzimiring, a 33-year-old master's student from Beersheba, as he sat at a table near the cafe. "We need to return to normal here. I have three kids - two daughters and a son - and I sent my daughters to Dimona when the fighting began. At least there, they don't have to deal with the sirens and the shelters, I'm afraid of the psychological damage it might cause them. "But my son, he's too young to understand, so he's still here with me. That's the hard part of all this - the separation from my family. It's not coming to campus and finishing up my degree," he said. Tzimiring said he was impressed with the response of his fellow students, even if it meant a return to some of the annoyances of the regular school week. "The parking lot was full today," he said. "I couldn't find any parking. But at least people are showing up."