One of the more inane manifestations of cold-war mania in America was to send youngsters for cover beneath classroom desks in the event of a Soviet atomic onslaught.
Israeli strategists, having done their homework and concluded that wooden school furniture is ineffective, came up with an ingenious improvement on the old Yankee model - concrete desks! True, as of yet these aren't our answer to the nukes Iran may soon add to its arsenal. However, unlike American under-desk drills carried out in apprehension of strictly hypothetical WMD attacks, our super-desks are designed to meet very real, albeit conventional, threats - Gaza's Kassams, primitive versions of Nazi V-1 and V-2 rockets and just as murderously indiscriminate.
Sounds like a joke? Right you are! The concept is thoroughly laughable but a jest this unfortunately isn't. It is, rather, a sad reflection on the mind-set of those installed negligently at our nation's helm.
This seeming gag is actually - no kidding - the product of deadpan earnest IDF innovative brainstorming, sparked by the realization that, as in Sderot, not all Ashkelon schools are properly fortified against rockets. Kassams can now reach any Ashkelon nook thanks to our leaders' foresight in ruthlessly uprooting and callously dispersing the residents of settlements at the edge of the northern Gaza Strip.
These settlements were set up to deliberately form physical barriers between the Strip and the Ashkelon area that features some of Israel's most sensitive targets (among them the Rutenberg Power Station, which keeps supplying Gaza with essentially free electricity, the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline, huge fuel storage facilities, the desalination plant and plenty more). But the infallible autocrats who sold us the disengagement bill of goods threw that logic to the wind, as they did the logic of holding onto the Philadelphi Corridor to prevent the arming of Gaza to its carnivorous teeth.
As ever, folly breeds peril and Ashkelon, which pre-disengagement was out of Kassam range, has now been rendered vulnerable.
ENTER THE concrete desks. These are proposed as a foolproof safety measure for unprotected schoolrooms. Pupils will be directed to cower underneath the novel constructions whenever Gazans unleash tokens of their appreciation for Israel's unilateral withdrawal.
Why has this notion been suggested for Ashkelon but not for Sderot? Penny-pinching prudence. Ashkelon is so much bigger and hence turning all its educational institutions into impregnable forts would be significantly more costly than the same in Sderot - not that all schools in the latter have yet benefited fully from the smaller-scale advantage.
Nevertheless, our civil-defense experts hardly idled about, putting their trust in divine miracles. In anticipation of the very tangible benefits of disengagement, they promoted a project to install large concrete cubes all around Sderot streets to offer the citizenry shelter in case Gazans failed to interpret our conciliatory overtures as we intended.
But the problem annoyingly persists. No defensive solution can ever be complete. No colossal concrete dome over all of Sderot, never mind the farming communities in its vicinity, is feasible - certainly not over sprawling Ashkelon. Neither is it possible to relocate the entire Western Negev urban and rural complex to underground burrows.
Alternatively, the region might be vacated, as was Gush Katif. Incipient and insipient hints (for now concerning kids) abound in this direction, making displacement the potentially preferential "last-resort" option.
LET'S FACE it: real estate in Sderot isn't lucrative. Sderot isn't a bustling hub of economic opportunity. Those who can, seek greener pastures. Others stay largely because they can't afford to move. Our powers-that-be regard Sderot as a negative-selection backwater.
Those who so easily and unflinchingly wiped off the map over 20 thriving communities in Gush Katif could certainly dispense with a far-from-thriving hick town whose own residents fought for seats on the buses sent by oligarch Arkady Gaydamak to take them on an Eilat hiatus (and thereby facilitate the most effective populist publicity stunt imaginable).
The Arabs must have rubbed their blood-stained hands in glee at the sight of Sderot's populace queuing to evacuate. They must derive equal pleasure at the later reluctance of said evacuees to return home. Arabs may deduce that the humiliated Jews next door have lost their resolve and stick-to-itiveness.
But why should anyone in Sderot wax heroic after having watched thousands of settlers being dragged from their homes? Their own government marked true heroes as enemies of the state. A more demoralizing demonstration of lack of solidarity is inconceivable.
Sderot might not be the dream of Israeli high society, but Sderot's folks are nobody's fools. They aren't the suckers of affluent creme-de-la-creme leftist Peace Now trendsetters.
With their own earthy good sense, Sderot's commoners recognize that the best defense is offense, and that good offense isn't shelling vacant lots, eliminating the odd miscreant, conducting brief sorties and generally trying not to get IDF hands too dirty so as not to offend sanctimonious European sensibilities. They know that the only way to defend is to win, and that you win by breaking the enemy's spirit and will to fight.
They know in Sderot that until that happens they are sitting ducks for no reason, and that the blood sacrifice demanded of them is for naught. They sense their government's propensity to make them refugees in their own land rather than defeat the enemy. The lesson of the northern third of Israel, abandoned to its fate last summer, didn't escape them.
They suspect that until the first rockets shatter the peace of Kfar Saba and Petah Tikva, polished politicians and their uniformed yes-men will only send border-zone children to save their lives under desks - concrete or otherwise.