Twenty seconds to take cover:
Qassam rocket attacks on Israeli schoolchildren

Published: 31 December 2006
Briefing Number 188

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Palestinian groups based in Gaza fired hundreds of Qassam rockets at Israeli civilian targets, during 2006. In the four weeks since the latest ‘ceasefire' between Israel and the Palestinians in November 2006, over 60 Qassams were launched at Israel , mainly at the town of Sderot .

The BBC has described Qassams as “crude and homemade”, and that they “only occasionally kill” (BBC, 14 December 2006 ). This is not how the schoolchildren of Sderot see them. This Briefing describes the terrifying and potentially lethal Qassam attacks on Israeli schoolchildren in recent weeks.

Attacks on schoolchildren at Nativ Yeshivati school

On 26 December 2006 , two 15 year old students from the Nativ Yeshivati school in Sderot, Adir Basad and Matan Cohen, were seriously injured by shrapnel from a Qassam rocket. “Adir lay there on the floor, covered in blood, and Matan's leg lay over him” said one eye-witness (Ha'aretz 27 December). Another pupil from the same school had been seriously injured weeks earlier. (The schoolbuilding itself had been struck in June 2006).

Sderot nursery children saved from Qassam blast by a hedge

On 24 December 2006 , a Qassam rocket landed right by a Sderot nursery school. The building was damaged. Several children were inside at the time (Ynet, 27 December 2006 ). “The rocket hit a hedge we build to separate the nursery and the yard. This wall saved the children who were here, because it was very badly damaged. Had the rocket hit the nursery itself I don't want to think what would have happened…”

Basketball court struck at after-school activity centre

On 21 December 2006 a Qassam rocket landed on a basketball court next to a community centre in Sderot where after-school activities were taking place. Said one eye-witness: “There was a huge explosion. The Qassam landed on the community centre's basketball court. There were no children in the area at the time….” Said another: “It was really frightening – we were thrown against the wall and the Qassam landed right behind us….”

School headteacher: “children have twenty seconds to take cover….”

A school headteacher in Sderot recently described what the children do when the alert siren goes off (which is a very regular occurrence) (quotes from Ynet, 22 November 2006 ). “The biggest danger as far as we are concerned is when the children get off the bus ride at the beginning of the day or get on the bus at the end. It's most terrifying then, because they are not next to fortified classroom buildings. …. Once the siren is heard we have to take cover within 20 seconds. It's a problematic mission when you are in an exposed street….”

A rocket recently landed very near her school: “We all ran into the fortified rooms. After the first fall I wanted to go outside to see if the children were alright, but the blast of the second fall threw me back into the class. That's when I knew the second fall was very close to us….. A miracle saved the childrens' lives that morning. What saved the children is the force of habit which made them cling to the walls where the alarm is sounded…. We are all accustomed and organised, and resume classes despite the attacks…. We have no other choice….”

Nursery teacher: our 3-5 year olds wait to hear rocket explosions

A nursery teacher recently described how she has trained her group of fifteen

3-5 year old children to march into the security room at their nursery inside 15 seconds. “They walk quickly, in a way which has become routine, stay quiet and wait for the rocket to explode….” ( Jerusalem Post 24 November 2006 )

Teachers have to try to explain rocket killings to the children

Another Sderot teacher describes the emotional challenges: “When the siren goes off, the teachers have to handle hysterical children, while many times the teachers themselves have children in different schools, many of which are unprotected…. Questions arise, like how to deal with four year olds who witnessed Fatima Slutsker being blown to bits, or Maor Peretz losing both his legs….?” [These were the result of Qassam attacks in Sderot in November 2006]

Conclusions and key messages

Qassam attacks by Palestinian groups are indiscriminate. And they threaten the lives of the schoolchildren of Sderot. The attacks described above have each taken place after Israel withdrew from Gaza , after the Palestinian leadership declared a ‘ceasefire', and without Israel retaliating.

As a result of the attack of 27 December on Adir Basad and Matan Cohen , Israel declared that it could no longer sit passively while Sderot civilians were being attacked. Officials announced that Israel would resume targeted attacks on Qassam launching squads in Gaza . The attacks described above, and many other Qassam attacks in recent months, have forced Israel to take this step.

There is no ‘cycle of violence' in Gaza : Israel is exercising restraint, while the Palestinian Qassam squads are trying to provoke an escalation.

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Briefing 176: Qassam attacks since Israel 's pullout from Gaza