(photo credit: )
Batya Katar, the head of the Sderot Parents' Association, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was "crazy" and that government ministers over the past seven years were "murderers." This was Katar's bitter reaction to Olmert's statements on Saturday and Sunday that he rejected a High Court of Justice ruling handed down on May 29 ordering the government to fortify every primary and secondary school classroom in Sderot and the rural settlements in the Gaza periphery.
"Olmert, the man who is supposed to be the number one lawman in the country, says, 'What do I care what the High Court says?'" said Katar.
"What kind of example is he for the rest of us?" She accused the government of doing nothing for Sderot. "We've been in range of Palestinian rockets for seven years," she said. "What do you call a government that doesn't give us protection and doesn't go into Gaza to eliminate the threat? Murderers."
Katar warned that the schools in Sderot would not open on September 1.
"For the third year in a row, the schools will not open," she said. "I guess Sderot doesn't belong to the state of Israel and is not to be found on the map."
With only about five weeks left until schools are scheduled to re-open, there appears to be no solution for Sderot. The government has not provided the money to fortify classrooms for pupils above third grade, the Education Ministry has not come up with an alternative plan for teaching children outside the danger zone, and the head of Sderot's education department will not grant permits for individual pupils to attend schools beyond the Gaza periphery.
"I'm waiting for a solution," said Katar. "The children of Sderot will not be refugees like the children of Darfur. They will not be thrown around from one place to another." Katar added that if the government worked hard, it could fortify all the classrooms in two or three schools before September 1. But there are two high schools and 11 primary schools in the city.
Not all legal experts agree on the sagacity of the High Court's ruling. There is no doubt that the government is responsible for determining national priorities and budget allocations. The High Court ruling was extremely precise and extremely inflexible, some of them argue. On the other hand, there is also no doubt that the High Court of Justice is authorized to review all government decisions and does so relatively frequently.
Constitutional law expert Suzie Navot, a lecturer at the academic campus of the College of Management in Rishon Lezion, said she was surprised to find that the Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch had made as explicit a ruling as she did in this case. Beinisch could have told the state to come up with a solution that would provide the students with an acceptable level of protection.
But Beinisch did not do that, said Navot. Instead, she ordered the state to fortify all the classrooms and auxiliary classroom in all primary and secondary schools by the beginning of the 2007-2008 school year.
Yoram Rabin, another expert in constitutional law and human rights at the College of Management, argued that the court had always reserved the right to intervene in executive decisions, but did so only if it concluded that a decision was extremely unreasonable or disproportional. The court took such action when it ordered the government to distribute gas masks on an equal basis between Israelis and Palestinians in the First Gulf War and when it ordered the Defense Ministry to shift the routes of sections of the security barrier in the West Bank.
Rabin said the fact that Olmert had criticized Beinisch's decision ordering the state to fortify all the classrooms and auxiliary classrooms did not mean he did not intend to implement it.
"The prime minister might be disappointed by the court's decision, but he must carry it out," said Rabin.
If Olmert refuses to do so, he could be found in contempt of court and face sanctions, including personal ones, he added.
But the court does not initiate action. It does not monitor whether its rulings are implemented. If they are not, it is up to the petitioners to bring that fact to the court's attention by filing a claim of contempt of court.
Navot predicted there would not be a "war" between the High Court and the prime minister. No one may challenge Olmert until September 1, she said. If the classrooms are not fortified by then, the government could be held in contempt of court. But at that point, it is likely that the state will declare it did not have enough time to implement the court decision and ask for an extension. It is also likely that the court will agree, said Navot. "The court is not looking for a fight with the prime minister," she said.
If legal action on this issue ensues after September 1, it is likely that the state will propose an alternative way to cope with the security threat in Sderot. According to reports, the army will claim that it needs the money extra school fortification would cost to help finance its anti-missile program, which is meant to deal with threats to the entire country.
MK Shai Hermesh (Kadima) told the Post that at best, the missile solution would only be ready in 2011. "What are the children supposed to do until then?" he asked.
But Hermesh was angrier at Olmert for his alleged failure to keep a promise he made to his party colleague in 2001 to allocate NIS 300 million on concrete safety rooms for all families in Sderot and the Gaza periphery. He said that Olmert had broken his promise.
Hermesh said public shelters did not solve the Kassam problem because residents only had 15 seconds to reach safety after the warning siren went off. He estimated that each nine sq. meter unit would cost NIS 75,000.