Israel holds national practice for missile attack
As the siren began to wail, the children ran quietly down the steps of the Science and Technology Elementary School in Pisgat Zeev, a northern suburb of Jerusalem built on post-1967 land. They sat on the floor in the four classrooms in the basement, all outfitted as bomb shelters. The air quickly became stuffy in the windowless rooms.
The teachers handed out crayons and pages to color, which most kids ignored. A few read books while others played cards. Some of the youngest students, sitting on the floor, looked scared. One little boy was crying.
The sixth graders, the oldest class in the school, were responsible for running the drill, which simulated a missile attack on the school. Some—wearing turquoise vests—were the “ushers,” responsible for keeping the children in line. Others, wearing neon-yellow, were the “medical professionals” carrying a stretcher and first-aid kits. After ten minutes, the children were allowed back upstairs, making much more noise than they did on the way down.
It seemed a lot for a 12-year old to handle.
“It was scary—it felt like it was real,” Netanel Maimann, 11, a short blond boy with a shy smile told The Media Line. “I thought I was prepared but then the siren went off and my heart jumped. My partner Michael started gathering the kids together and then I got control of myself and started to help. Once we got to the shelter I calmed down.”
Named “Steadfast Home Front 1,” the drill included two sirens—one at 12:30 p.m. aimed at schools and work places, and one at 7:05 p.m. aimed at getting families to enter shelters or protected areas. Since the Lebanon War in 2006, Israel’s Home Front Command has been holding this drill. But this year, with both Hizbullah terrorists in south Lebanon and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad threatening missile strikes on Israel, it seems more necessary.
“Even though it’s just a drill, it imitates the reality we live in daily,” Orit Navon, a fifth grade teacher at the school told The Media Line. “I feel scared, both for my students and for my own children.”
Navon says her own daughter Tair, a first-grader at the school, was very frightened during last November’s week-long clash with Hamas gunmen in the Gaza Strip. During that time, Hamas fired hundreds of missiles, most of which landed in southern Israel. For the first time, though, rockets landed near Jerusalem, and twice sirens sounded in the city.
“My daughter had a full-scale panic attack that time,” Navon recalls. “She started crying, and wouldn’t leave my side. Now, every time I tell her there’s going to be a drill she says, ‘But what if there’s a real missile attack during the drill?’ When we went down to the shelters today, I looked over to make sure she was OK.”
No-nonsense vice-principal Shoshi Haverman, carrying a megaphone, says she’s pleased with how the drill went.
“Within 90 seconds, all 200 students and staff were downstairs and in the protected area,” she said. “We do have a few children we know get very scared and we try to prepare them and give them extra attention.”
When a little boy started to cry, she says, his teacher hugged him and gave him water to drink. He soon calmed down, she said.
Because of the tense political situation the school has held more drills than ever before this year, she said. Some, like today’s drill, were mandated by the government. Others were initiated by the school. Israeli soldiers also came to the school to explain preparedness to the children.
Defense experts estimate there are about 200,000 rockets and missiles pointed at Israel from Lebanon, Syria, Gaza and Iran. An Israeli army spokesman said the army was investigating a possible missile launched from Lebanon after residents in the northern city of Metulla heard booms overnight.
“Israel is the most threatened state in the world,” Prime Minister Bainjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday. “We are prepared for any scenario.”
Yet, for all the drama and excitement, for these sixth graders in this northern Jerusalem school, the drill was just another part of a normal school day.
“I’ve already done it now since I was in first grade and my job is to help the younger children,” Yarden Baloul, 12, a soft-spoken girl with long brown hair and braces told The Media Line. “I’m a little afraid of a war but I live on the first floor so I can get to the shelter in my building pretty quickly.”
Her friend Shiran Asraf, 12, admitted that she sometimes gets scared when she hears sirens.
“I know the school is just trying to prepare me for life when it could really happen,” she said. “I was glad that I could help the younger children stay organized and go down to the shelter more quickly. If there was chaos, they wouldn’t make it down in time.”
Asraf, who wants to be an actress, says she doesn’t follow the news that closely.
“I know a war could happen, but I really don’t like to think about it,” she said. “It’s too scary.”