Schools in southern Israel’s three major cities – Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beersheba
– stayed closed Thursday as a barrage of rockets fired by militants from the
nearby Gaza Strip continued to hit targets in the area, including in some
Despite recommendations from the Home Front
Command and security services that it was not necessary to close educational
institutions, schools in Ashdod and Beersheba didn’t open and some parents in
Ashkelon refused to allow their children to attend as anger rises over the lack
of adequate protection for thousands of pupils.
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In Ashdod, where a rocket
hit a northern suburb on Thursday afternoon, following a Grad rocket hit in a
southern neighborhood Tuesday night, Mayor Yehiel Lasri decided to close schools
through Sunday, saying he could not take responsibility for “endangering the
security of any child in the city.”
“[The mayor] wanted to take some time
to learn how to cope with the prospect of another rocket attack,” explained
Ashdod spokesman Adi Ben-Hamo. “He decided it was not a good idea to allow
students to attend schools and on Saturday night will hold meetings in order to
decide what to do next.”
With a population of roughly 235,000, Ashdod is
Israel’s fifth-largest city and has more than 55,000 students in a wide variety
of educational frameworks. Ben-Hamo said the main concern was for haredi schools
that often have classes in caravans with no safe areas and for schools or
kindergartens built more than 15 years ago that do not have bomb
“The mayor does not want to take a chance and is happy that the
local parents’ organization has supported his decision,” said
Clement Berredi, head of the Ashdod Parents Committee, welcomed
the mayor’s decision to close schools on Thursday and Friday and said that
parents associations in the southern region also planned to meet Saturday night
to discuss their own course of action.
“We should not be taking any
chances that a child might be hurt,” he commented.
In Beersheba, which
was hit by two Grad rockets early Wednesday morning – one in a residential area
– the story was similar, with Mayor Ruvik Danilovich closing schools for roughly
40,000 pupils on Wednesday and Thursday.
While it was still not clear if
the schools will re-open Friday, Beersheba municipal spokesman Amnon Yosef said
the city has almost no protective structures in its educational institutions but
that it has developed an effective distance learning program first initiated
during Operation Cast Lead in 2008/09.
“When the schools are closed, it
is not meant to be a day off for the students,” he said. “We have learned how to
run a distance learning program with educational materials being transferred via
computer to the pupils at home.”
Yosef did note, however, the
difficulties faced by working parents now forced to stay home with their
children due to the school closure.
“It is not a simple decision and we
hope this situation will not continue,” he said.
While Avner Bitton, head
of the Parent-Teacher Association in Beersheba, said that the decision to close
the schools was essential so as not to risk children’s lives, other residents
were not impressed.
Veteran US immigrant Miriam Green, who has lived in
Beersheba for more than 20 years and has three children, said that while she
understands “the fear parents have when a siren goes off… this situation is very
difficult for parents, especially immigrants that do not have extended family
nearby to help out.
“It also sends a message to the children that their
routine has been halted for a certain reason and I don’t know if that is the
message I want to send to my children,” she said.
In Ashkelon, the
largest Israeli city closest to Gaza, Mayor Benny Vaknin did not officially
close the schools, even though the local parent’s association called on parents
not to send their children to school Thursday.
The city’s spokesman,
Yossi Azoulay, estimated that 70 percent of the city’s school children had shown
up for classes. He said the decision to keep school open was to prevent young
people from wandering around unsupervised in public areas, which could be even
more dangerous to their safety if a rocket was to fall.
“The mayor felt
it was not smart to allow the children to wander around outside of school
because that is also not safe,” he said. “Those firing the rockets do not do so
with much precision, the rockets land randomly and public areas outside of the
school grounds might not be safe either.”
The decision angered Ashkelon
Parents Committee chairman Inon Jibli, who said, “the decision not to close the
schools puts our children in a dangerous security situation and we do not
understand why the mayor would risk their lives.
“Every other mayor
decided to close the schools and only in Ashkelon they are open,” he
A spokesman for the Home Front Command said it had not recommended
the schools be closed because the situation did not warrant it.
moment there is still no state of emergency in that area and we can only
recommend to local authorities what they should or should not do,” he
“We respect the decision of each mayor to decide what is best for
his community,” he said, adding that the decision to build bomb shelters or
protective areas in schools ultimately belonged to the government.