Defense Minister Amir Peretz on Monday disappointed the inhabitants of Sderot and the nearby regional councils by declaring a "special situation" in the Kassam-wracked area, rather than an "emergency situation."
Peretz and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had to dig deep into the statute books to come up with the declaration, which appears in the 1951 Civil Defense Law. According to Article 9d, the security official in charge of the area "may give, as required, to any person, type of person or the public at large any order necessary to protect or save their lives or property." The security officials may order people to stay in certain places, including houses or other buildings, security rooms or bomb shelters; prohibit or restrict studies in schools; or give orders regarding personal property for civil defense.
The "special situation" makes no mention of economic aid for the area.
Shimon Peretz, the treasurer of Sderot, told The Jerusalem Post the government should declare a state of emergency in Sderot and the communities in the Gaza Strip periphery and implement Melah (Economy in Time of Emergency).
Melah is essentially a program meant to prevent severe disruptions of life in the civilian sector as much as possible while the country is at war and many of the men are in uniform. The system was introduced by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in 1955, but has undergone many changes since.
It is a system for co-coordinating the help offered by the various government ministries to the Home Front in wartime. It is headed by a Higher Emergency Economy Committee, which is headed by the minister of defense. Beneath it are committees at the military command levels, the administrative districts and the local and regional councils.
One of its prime responsibilities is to make certain there is enough food, medical care, electricity, water and fuel for the civilian population. It also is responsible for looking after the needs of the war effort that are provided by civilians in the armaments industry, food production and other areas that aid the military. Finally it is responsible for containing the economic damage to the areas under attack.
According to Peretz, only implementing Melah can ameliorate the severe economic damage that the city and its surroundings have suffered. Peretz accused the Finance Ministry of saving money at the expense of the civilians who are under attack.
In the meantime, Sderot has been negotiating a bill with the Knesset Finance Committee to declare the city and the communities around it, up to a distance of seven kilometers from the Gaza Strip border, the "southern front-line communities." The bill, which has not yet been presented for first reading, grants a long list of benefits to local residents, including exemption from paying employers' tax, a 50-percent cut on municipal taxes, grants and loans to purchase homes in the front-line area, financial aid for small businesses, free day cr ches, free enrichment classes and free professional training courses.