Beersheva, Israel — There was an eerie silence at Ben-Gurion University’s campus here as the footsteps of visitors echoed down hallways generally bustling with student life.
Classes were suspended Monday because of rocket attacks from Gaza as Israel and Islamic Jihad exchanged fire for the fourth day.
In a conference room, the university’s president, Rivka Carmi, told a visiting group of reporters that she was confident the flare-up would calm down. “Tomorrow this will all be over,” she said, citing extensive briefings with the municipality and the IDF Home Front Command.
But she said the interruption was a “huge, huge challenge. Yesterday we had to cancel 70 exams. Basically we had to reschedule the whole semester.”
The IDF ordered schools closed again Tuesday in cities and towns located up to 25 miles from the Gaza border, affecting about 200,000 children. It was the third day that classes have been canceled. Classes at colleges and universities in the area also were closed.
Discussing her decision process on school closings, Carmi said often she is not given a choice by the city or the army. But she said she had learned to judge the severity of reprisals to Israeli attacks on terror leaders. “I am now an expert,” she said. “It really goes according to how high-ranked the people who were attacked are. If they are not as high, [the militants] use just some short-range missiles. If it’s somebody higher in the ranks, they use medium-range missiles. If it reaches about 40 kilometers, it means we are going to have something over here.”
Carmi said a few students had been treated at hospitals for anxiety, but some 300-400 others had volunteered to help local residents with child care and other necessities.
Dr. Gabi Schrieber, dean of faculty and director of psychiatric services at Ben- Gurion University, said on Tuesday that people living in close-knit ideological communities, such as kibbutzim, moshavim and West Bank settlements tended to resist trauma in the face of rocket attacks better than people living in large cities such as Sderot, Ashkelon and Beersheve because those people could feel more isolated, particularly immigrants from other countries without a “cohesive social structure.”
In a meeting with visiting U.S. reporters, Schrieber said that with each attack — rocket launches have now plagued northern and southern Israelis for a decade — they showed an ability to adapt, and that children who have grown up with this life are coping well. “We are used to it,” he said. “We are proud of our resilience. Maybe we are a bit crazy. The resilience of children is better than that of adults.”
Schrieber said clinical psychologists have learned from the army the necessity of treating patients in proximity to where trauma occurs, and immediately after, while validating the feelings of shock.
Schrieber said it was important for Israelis to feel hope, but also important to see that the rockets are not an existential threat. “Out of 100 missiles, only one person was seriously hurt,” he said. “We can live with it.”