(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni (UTJ) demanded on Tuesday that the government transfer funds to reinforce schools and hospitals facing rocket and missile attacks from the south.
“Unfortunately, interest in the topic passes the minute the immediate threat is removed,” Rivlin said during an emergency meeting of the Finance Committee, called during the Knesset’s summer recess. “We must ensure that schools in Ashkelon and Beersheba are protected.”
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“The current situation cannot continue – is the Iron Dome [missile defense system] supposed to replace reinforced buildings?” Gafni asked, adding that he would call a joint meeting between the Finance and Foreign Affairs and Defense Committees on the topic, and present these points to Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.
“The Finance Committee cannot be asked to authorize funds for specific matters without giving us a clear picture of the government’s policy,” Gafni explained.
Rivlin told the committee about his impressions following a trip to the south on Sunday.
“In the previous Knesset, during Operation Cast Lead, a NIS 15 million budget was authorized in order to protect schools in Ashkelon, and nothing has been done since then,” he said.
“I was shocked to hear on my visit to Ashkelon that this budget is stuck due to disputes between ministries – the Finance Ministry said it allocated the funds, and the Defense Ministry says it didn’t receive anything – and the fate of these children remains uncertain.”
In addition, Rivlin read from a letter by Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich, which explained that one-third of the city’s 264 shelters require renovations.
Danilovich also called for protection for kindergartens, schools and public buildings, including reinforced walls, alarms and electronic equipment, which would cost NIS 22 million.
“Ashkelon, Beersheba and Ashdod are major cities, not the front lines,” Rivlin said.
“Harming them is a strategic threat, and continuing life in these cities as much as possible, even during times of emergency, is an essential goal.”
Also on Tuesday, Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Shaul Mofaz (Kadima), released a letter sent to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu following Sunday’s trip to the south.
“The committee was shocked to learn from Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vakin that 10 schools and 22 nurseries still have not been protected,” Mofaz wrote.
“The plan for mobile protection units was approved long ago, and the project began to be implemented, but was stopped at some point.”
“This project only costs NIS 15 million, and can protect thousands of schoolchildren,” he added.
Home Front Command Col. Benny Shick told the Finance Committee that the IDF has begun planning protection for education institutions in Ashkelon, which will cost NIS 22.5 million. He added that there is no budget problem, and the tenders will be announced within the next year.
Meir Bing, representing the Finance Ministry, said that NIS 80 million has already been transferred to the Defense Ministry in order to defend schools in the south.