Staff and students at Sha’ar HaNegev High School are struggling to maintain their composure after terrorists fired an anti-tank missile at a school bus, critically injuring a teenage passenger and moderately hurting the driver.
The bus was dropping off children at the gates of kibbutz Nachal Oz, less than one mile from the Gaza border, when it was targeted. The children were returning home after a regular day at the high school.
“The children had just got off the bus; it was a miracle,” said Sha’ar HaNegev Principal Aharele Rothstein, pointing out that the incident had been just moments away from being an even greater tragedy.
A member of Magen David Adom (MDA) told Ha’aretz: “The boy was lying on the ground bleeding. The bus driver was conscious and hysterical. The entire bus destroyed – it was a horrifying sight.” The wounded have been taken to Soroka Hospital in Be’ersheva. Their names had not been released at the time of writing.
As Mr Rothstein was speaking to World ORT this afternoon Israeli forces were retaliating. Ha’aretz reported that Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, had ordered the army to respond quickly. Mr Barak reportedly held Hamas responsible for the violence but there was no claim of responsibility for the attack.
Mr Rothstein told World ORT: “We’re now trying to be serious and responsible. We have kids here at school. We have music and ballet classes. We have everything here and we continue as usual. We try to stay normal. But only five kilometres south of here it’s noisy. There is shooting; it’s a complicated situation. It’s what people call a war. So we’re waiting now to see what will happen. We’re hoping very much that the level of violence won’t increase.”
The Principal has been in contact with the families of the wounded.
“We take care of everything,” he said. “We have psychologists, social workers, all the kids on the bus are being taken care of.”
Until Operation Cast Lead, classes at Mr Rothstein’s school were regularly interrupted by red alert sirens which would give children and teachers less than 15 seconds to find cover. Rocket attacks from the Hamas-ruled territory have been increasing in frequency again in recent months.
World ORT has been supporting the school since 2007 through its Kadima Mada programme, providing a range of technological and pedagogical tools. Before Operation Cast Lead, World ORT provided laptops for use in air raid shelters; now, World ORT is providing a reinforced science centre for the school’s new rocket-proof campus.
As news of today’s attack broke, Lisa Kleinman, the head of the JFNA Marketing Directors mission to Israel, which visited Sha’ar HaNegev High School last week, contacted World ORT to express their shock at what had happened and share their prayers for the wounded.
On behalf of World ORT, the organisation’s Director General and CEO, Robert Singer, wished the wounded a full and speedy recovery.
“Unfortunately, people in this area have been living with this uncertainty for a long time. The most vulnerable are the children and everything possible must be done to ensure their safety and to help them live normally in abnormal circumstances. World ORT will continue to do all it can to provide them with everything that a child in Tel Aviv, New York, Los Angeles or London has.”
In New York, President Shimon Peres responded to news of the attack saying it was “another clear example of Gaza’s transformation into a terror state”. He told UN Security Council ambassadors that “hundreds of thousands of mothers and children in southern Israel are not able to sleep peacefully at night as a result of rocket fire from Gaza”.