Yesterday, more than 265,000 children across southern Israel returned to school
after enduring several days of Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza. However
unappealing the tedium of the classroom may be for many of them, most are
nonetheless surely happy that the risk of attack has dissipated, at least for
Indeed, scenes on television in recent days of Jewish children
crouching in fear, terrified at the prospect of an incoming explosive projectile
hurtling in their direction, were difficult to watch. Gone was the usual
exuberance and enthusiasm that is normally associated with Israeli youth.
Instead, their young faces were taut with tension as they huddled and hoped for
Thankfully, none were injured, as the Palestinian terrorists’
aim is as misguided as their ideology. And Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile
system proved effective in intercepting dozens of incoming rockets. But the
recent round of violence exposed a critical weakness in Israel’s home front
defenses, one that requires prompt and immediate rectification: the lack of
adequate public bomb shelters, especially in the nation’s schools.
for example, Beersheba, the largest city in the Negev.
Deputy Mayor Dr. Heftsi Zohar, there is an acute shortage of protected areas in
the city’s educational institutions.
“Most of the schools in Beersheba
don’t have enough shelters or safe areas,” she told The Jerusalem Post
that, “most have secure spaces, but not enough.”
Zohar added that she is
not aware of any government plans to construct additional bomb shelters in the
city. A friend living in Beersheba, Professor William Seidelman, confirmed
“My wife and I live in a newer apartment with a protective Mamad
[sealed room]. But our children and grandchildren, like most Israelis who live
in older housing, do not have access to this protection,” he said. “One of our
daughters and her family are at least five minutes from the nearest
Usually, people have less than a minute after the siren sounds
to get to safety.
Residents of Ofakim confronted a different problem when
their town came under attack. To their dismay, they discovered that the
bomb shelters in their city were filthy and unsuited for long stays in the event
of a prolonged crisis.
As one Ofakim resident told Ynet, “When we opened
the shelter doors it was awful. It’s dirty here and it stinks, the toilets
aren’t working, and some of the people are sleeping on pieces of fabric instead
To be sure, no one expects a public bomb shelter to
resemble the presidential suite at the St. Regis hotel. But if the government
and municipal officials do not maintain shelters and keep them clean and
well-stocked, it will only deter citizens from seeking them out when they need
The lack of public shelters isn’t the government’s only
failing when it comes to protecting the civilian population. Overall, the
situation is more dire than most of us realize. MK Ze’ev Bielski, chairman of
the Knesset subcommittee that deals with home front defense, recently put it
quite bluntly: “The home front is not ready.”
Speaking to the Jewish
Telegraphic Agency, Bielski said that improvements have been made since the 2006
Second Lebanon War, but he described the current situation as “not good,”
pointing out that 1.7 million Israelis still have no access to any kind of
physical protection. That is one out of every five people in the
Worse yet, a whopping 40 percent of the public do not have gas
masks, and the government only has an additional 1 million masks in storage.
This means that if a war were to erupt, over 2 million Israelis would not have
masks in case of a chemical or biological attack.
“It is the
responsibility of the government to provide basic protection for its citizens,
and the government is not fulfilling its responsibilities,” Bielski correctly
Given the likelihood of a conflict with Iran in the upcoming year,
it is more essential than ever that the government take immediate steps to
bolster the preparedness of the home front. Professor Seidelman of Beersheba
suggested a number of simple yet urgent steps that the government should take,
which include surveying all existing shelters in public spaces and buildings to
assess their readiness as well as ensuring they are accessible and
Proper signs need to be put up, with proper markings and
directions in multiple languages, to guarantee quick and easy
access. Maps highlighting public shelters should be distributed to every
household and the information should be made available on the Internet as well.
Moreover, the government needs to invest in building additional shelters, with
priority given to schools and kindergartens within rocket range of
It is simply inexcusable that after all these years of ongoing
Palestinian attacks, the residents of the south still do not have suitable
protection. The nation can ill afford to be ill-prepared, particularly
since the next war could see rockets coming at us from Hamas in the south,
Hezbollah in the north and Iran to the east.
This will put Israel’s
entire home front at risk, unless we act now with foresight and prudence.