'We knew it could happen, and it did'

Sapir students stay strong despite classmate's death in a Kassam rocket attack.

Kassam medics 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 2)
Kassam medics 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 2)
A shocked and saddened Sapir Academic College will soldier on despite the death of Roni Yihye, who was fatally wounded by a Kassam in the school's parking lot on Wednesday afternoon. "We will conduct classes as usual tomorrow," President Zeev Tzahor told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday night. Asked whether the college would demand upgraded protection, Tzahor replied, "All of the students already learn in reinforced classrooms." The college said in a statement that it would provide buses from the campus to the funeral for anyone who wished to attend. This was the first death from a Kassam on Sapir's campus, but Tzahor noted that a student was killed in Netiv Ha'asara a few years ago. It was the 11th fatality from a Kassam. Nestled among the northern Negev kibbutzim, over 8,000 students call Sapir College their academic home. The school offers undergraduate degrees in fields ranging from cinema and TV art to technological marketing to economics and social work. For Dov Dalin, Yihye's classmate in the logistics department, the tragedy evoked a strong desire to assist his friend's family in any way possible, while anger at Prime Minister Ehud Olmert simmered just below the surface. "I was there in the parking lot when the Kassam fell. There wasn't much the medics could do - he had sustained a serious wound on contact," Dalin related by phone in a somber voice just hours after the attack. "I want to do whatever I can to help the family, to do whatever we can. It is a very sad day. We all knew it could happen, and now it did," he said. Dalin, who made aliya from Los Angeles, said he had no intention of leaving Sapir to finish his studies elsewhere. But he could barely restrain his anger at Olmert. "I personally feel Olmert is responsible. He is at fault, it's on his head. He has to resign, he's failed," he finished with subdued heat. The National Union of Israeli Students (NUIS) released a statement to the media shortly after the attack. "We in the union send our condolences to the family of the student who was killed. The students of Sapir College are the bravest students; we extend our hand to them and support them," NUIS head Itay Shonshine wrote. "I call on the students to continue to be strong. And I call on the prime minister and the government of Israel to find a solution as soon as possible." Sapir student Estee Nemeth, who arrived on campus just as the ambulances did, was thrown into a series of flashbacks of the last time she witnessed a terror attack. "I've seen something like this before," she told the Post Wednesday night. "Last November, a Kassam fell in a playground and wounded a 19-year-old youth. His stomach was ripped open. I found out later that he had lived, but was in the hospital for months." Nemeth recounted a scene of chaos, students running around and fires burning, smoke rising. "No one knew what was going on," she said. In fact, in the middle of the interview, a Color Red warning forced Nemeth to temporarily abandon her apartment and cut the conversation short. Because she lives on the top floor of her building, she says, "I run down one flight, since I don't think a Kassam can penetrate two floors." Nemeth, too, was vehement that the killing would not drive her away from school. "It's been like this from the beginning, with Kassams falling all the time. My second year was really bad. I applied to Sapir from New York, and I decided to come here knowing what the situation was," she said. Tzahor assured the public via TV news that Sapir was committed to teaching and to expanding. Asked whether applications to the college had diminished due to the ongoing rocket fire, Tzahor said, "One of the things which should encourage Israeli society is our students' and lecturers' resilience." "We continue to stick to our main task, and that is studying... During seven years of Kassam rocket fire, the college has grown and the number of students doubled. We will continue to expand," Tzahor said. "The Council for Higher Education has recently given us the option of teaching for a master's degree. We are also waiting for the council to officially recognize a program of law studies. With these programs, we will continue to grow," he asserted. JPost.com staff contributed to this report.