Sapir mourns rocket victim

'It's safer here than in my apartment,' student says.

Kassam medics 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 2)
Kassam medics 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 2)
Dafna Sibony, 22, from Kibbutz Nir Am just outside Sderot, sat for hours in Sapir Academic College's library on Thursday, even though her classes had been canceled due to low attendance. "The library here is usually packed with students. Today it's empty because many of the students skipped classes after one of the students [Roni Yihye, 47] died here. I am here because it's safer than being in my apartment in Nir Am, where a Kassam rocket fell yesterday, 100 meters from my apartment," Sibony told The Jerusalem Post. Sibony, a second-year student of media and communications at Sapir College, sees no reason to leave her home and life. "People keep asking us why don't we leave here, and I say, 'I live on Israeli land, it's not occupied land. Why should I go, and where to?'" Sibony is the sister of St.-Sgt. Assaf Sibony, who died on February 4, 1997, along with 72 comrades, in the "Helicopter Disaster" on the way to fight in Lebanon. The atmosphere at the college, which is also situated near Sderot, was gloomy on Thursday. The classes remained nearly empty and the cafeterias closed down early due to lack of customers. Prof. Zeev Tzahor, Sapir's president, said high attendance was reported among students of subjects such as mathematics, economics and engineering, and low attendance in the social sciences. "The atmosphere here is sad today. Roni was a well-known figure here because of his age and because of the effort he put into his studies and the long path he had travelled. He almost finished his studies; we plan to ask the Council for Higher Education to award him the degree he strived for as a gesture," Tzahor said. Students had been stopping by his office throughout the day, Tzahor said. "They are coming here to show their support and to tell me and the academic staff to stay strong. Of course the academic staff is affected as well, and they try hard to stay strong around the students, but even among them the attendance today was divided into teachers of the exact sciences who came to work as usual and those from the social sciences who showed up in lesser numbers," he said. Sixty percent of the students come from the Sderot area, and 40 percent from the center and north of the country. The state pays half the tuition for all the students. Even so, Tzahor said, "they need to pay rent and bills and to buy food, and yet they do not give up and they stay to study here. I myself have no explanation for this amazing phenomenon. They could have left to study someplace else, but they choose Sapir College." Sharon Naor, 24, another second year student of media and communications, originally from Holon, had an explanation for this phenomenon. "The students who come to study here are different from those in the rest of the country. They don't break easily and they knew where they chose to study. This reality of living under the Kassam alerts becomes routine and we, the students, are important to Sderot's economy and morale. We can't just leave," Naor said. Still, Naor was wandering the college on Thursday, shaky and pale. "Even though we are used to this reality, there had never been a day like yesterday, when so many Kassam rockets were fired, one after the other, and most of them fell near the college. Besides, a man died here and this is something that is hard to process," she said. Her parents had asked her to come home to Holon for the weekend, she added. Eyal Lutzato, 26, from Beersheba, and Dana Bokovza, 20, from Ofakim, are both in their first year of studying Industrial Management. They could have chosen some other school, they said. "We knew what we were coming to and it didn't discourage us. I don't think this reality will break us," Lutzato said. "However, I heard they have already installed a 'Color Red' alert system in Ofakim because the Kassams might reach there, too, and I think this is not a solution. The government should handle the problem and not just let it spread," Bokovza said. Many of the students' parents have called Student Union chairman David Barnan and asked him to shut down the college, if only for a few days. "The worst of all scenarios happened and it's a big blow for us. I hope it won't happen again but I can't close Sapir College. It would mean that Sderot would be closed afterward, and the towns of the Gaza belt, too. On the one hand, the students are the financial engine of Sderot, but on the other hand, we don't want to be sitting ducks and the government should fortify this place if it wants us to stay here," Barnan said. President Shimon Peres and Education Minister Yuli Tamir, as well as the ambassadors of the European Union, France and Slovenia, arrived at the college on Thursday, to express support for the students. "I hope we will reach a hudna [cease-fire] because I don't think a peace agreement is within reach in the near future," Tamir said. "We need to return to a balance of quiet here, and as a person who doesn't decide on military operations and who doesn't want to see the IDF inside the Gaza Strip again, I can promise one thing: Another school year will be opened here next year and the students will get financial aid as they received this year." Many of the students who did show up went to see the spot where a Kassam killed Yihye, a father of four. "This could be any one of us. It is a central spot all of us pass every day. It is just a matter of bad luck," said Idit Berenstein, 25, a film student originally from Kibbutz Sde Eliahu who was on the college's bus to Yihye's funeral in Moshav Bit'ha, near Ofakim. "I didn't know him, but I wanted to show his family I haven't become apathetic and that I feel sorry for them," she said.