Missiles on Beersheba

If the heart of the Negev is not safe, then all Israelis are at risk.

Olmert Beersheba control room 248.88 (photo credit: GPO)
Olmert Beersheba control room 248.88
(photo credit: GPO)
Since the rockets began hitting Beersheba following the start of Operation Cast Lead, all classes and events at Ben-Gurion University's main campus in the city have been cancelled by the order of the Home Front Command. This comes after eight years of ongoing rocket barrages on the Negev. These were years in which we wanted to believe that we were out of range of the Hamas missiles that had terrorized Sderot and the communities around the Gaza Strip for so long; years in which we offered ongoing assistance to our colleagues and the students of Sapir College (which has suffered repeated missile attacks), confident that this would never happen to us. The lesson here, of course, is that this can happen to anyone. It happened to the residents of the North only two years ago, and now it is here in the Negev, in an area that stretches from Ashdod to Beersheba, with some 900,000 people currently living through a nightmare of daily missile attacks. Although Israelis tend to think of Beersheba as the periphery, it is in fact the geographic center of the country: the heart of Israel. Historically, this city and region have been places of understanding and dialogue, home to Jews and Beduin alike, the city of our common forefather Abraham. If Beersheba and its citizens are not safe, then all Israelis are at risk. IT WAS not an easy decision to cancel academic studies, particularly when third-year students have already endured a six-week student strike in 2007 and an extended 90-day strike by academic faculty last year. At the same time, the university is still reeling from the impact of the world financial crisis following on the heels of government budgetary cutbacks, trying to cope with all of these challenges without compromising our academic standards and our excellence in research. This decision also comes at a time when a significant number of our students, as well as members of our faculty and staff, have been called up for reserve duty and are now on the front lines, risking their lives to ensure the long-term security of the State of Israel. But we have no choice, as we cannot put our 18,000 students at risk as Grad missiles continue to fall around us. So far, the residents of Beersheba have been relatively lucky. The two rockets that fell on educational facilities - a kindergarten and a school - didn't injure anyone thankfully, as both buildings were empty when they were hit. The university has committed itself to doing whatever is necessary to ensure the security of all our faculty, students and staff, including assisting students who are in the military, while adopting long-distance and e-learning options on-line. We are also providing support to families who have been impacted by the conflict, creating a day care center on the Marcus Family Campus to provide a safe environment easily accessible to our staff that continues to work. HUNDREDS OF our students have opted to stay in Beersheba, volunteering around the city in bomb shelters, soup kitchens and staffing the university day care center. This willingness to reach out to the community is what makes our students, in particular, and our society in general, special. War is a horrible thing; innocents will be injured and killed on both sides. Sadly, this conflict has been foisted on us by an uncompromising Hamas, which mistakenly believes Israel will one day disappear. It is wrong. We at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev are here to affirm the positive, to continue pursuing knowledge in a safe environment and to promote peaceful cooperation with all of our neighbors for the benefit of all. We pray that the current operation will quickly achieve its goals and allow peace to take root in the region. The writer is the president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.