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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In the shadow of rocket attacks in Sderot which killed one woman and severely wounded two others, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch severely reprimanded the state for failing to reinforce classrooms in the town.
"Dozens of kindergartens are unprotected," Beinisch told the state. "It is inconceivable that schools will be closed because of Kassam rockets. The fact is that people's lives are at stake."
Beinisch issued a show-cause order, giving the state two weeks to explain why it has not acted faster to reinforce the kindergartens and schools in Sderot and other communities close to the Gaza Strip and why it believed that its plan for protecting the educational facilities without reinforcing all the classrooms was a good one.
Originally, the government allocated NIS 210 million to beef up the Gaza periphery (an area defined as including all the towns and villages within a seven-kilometer radius of the Gaza Strip.) Some of that sum was earmarked to reinforce all of the kindergartens.
On July 2, 2006, the government allocated an additional NIS 75 million to reinforce 16 elementary and eight secondary schools in the same area.
The state's representative, Attorney Ra'anan Giladi, told the court the government's plan was to reinforce some classrooms and certain areas of the school building where the rest of the students could be rushed to in case of a Kassam attack. "A class will be regarded as being protected if it, itself, is a protected area or if there is a protected area nearby which the children can get to as soon as an alarm is sounded," he said.
The response infuriated Batya Kattar, a leader of the Struggle to Restore Security to Sderot. "It's a disgrace," she said. "The state is shooting from the hip. Just three weeks ago, at the beginning of the army's Operation Autumn Clouds in Beit Hanun, Sderot's children were forbidden from studying in unreinforced classrooms or protected zones outside the classroom."
Kattar also blasted the state for trying to create the impression that many of the classrooms had been reinforced. "They have reinforced three classrooms on each floor," she told The Jerusalem Post. "If there are 15 classrooms on a floor of a two-storey school, that means they have reinforced six out of 30 classrooms.
Giladi argued that experts in the security field had determined that it was sufficient to give the students 15 seconds to reach the protected areas from their classrooms because the warning siren sounded 20 seconds before the terrorist rockets struck the town. As for those instances when there was no warning period at all, he added, the children were still in no greater danger than they were on their way to and from school or in their unreinforced homes.
The state added that a project for reinforcing 24 schools according to the plan determined by the government would usually take six to nine months. Working day and night, Sabbaths and holiday, the contractors had completed the 16 primary schools by September 3 and four of the eight secondary schools by October 16.
However, the petitioners are demanding that the state finish reinforcing every roof of every educational facility immediately. Furthermore, many of the kindergartens are still not reinforced despite the NIS 210 million budget, most of which had already been allocated to the Defense Ministry before the government decided to add another NIS 75 million for the schools. Of 31 kindergartens in Sderot, only 7 have been reinforced so far, Kattar told The Post.
Beinisch urged the state representatives to present a timetable for completing the work and reminded them that "the schools are your responsibility."