Cabinet rejects extra Gaza belt funding

PM says High Court can't dictate to gov't how to fortify.

Sderot damage 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Sderot damage 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
In an alleged response to a query from the High Court of Justice, the security cabinet decided on Wednesday to reject a Defense Ministry proposal to extend the range of the program for building reinforced security rooms in the Gaza periphery from 4.5 kilometers to 4.7 km. But infuriated residents of communities within the 4.5-km. zone charged that the cabinet had discussed the wrong issue. The ministers should have been considering the residents' demand to allocate NIS 500 million to complete construction of security rooms for all 8,000 families within the official 4.5-km. danger zone. So far, the government has allocated NIS 327m. for the first phase of the program, enough for only 3,000 housing units in the zone. "Instead of dealing with the real problem, the committee made this stupid decision," charged Kadima MK Shai Hermesh, who lives in Kibbutz Kfar Aza and is one of the petitioners. It certainly looked as though there was a foul-up on the part of the government. According to the cabinet decision, "the Ministerial Committee on National Security Affairs met in the wake of a petition to the High Court of Justice. It discussed the possibility of expanding the structural reinforcement plan for communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip beyond the 4.5-km. range to a 4.7-km. range, at an additional overall cost of hundreds of millions of dollars." But the petition the cabinet was referring to had nothing to do with expanding the security zone. It was the one filed by Hermesh and 10 others from 11 kibbutzim that were not included in phases one and two of the government's construction plan. In August, Hermesh and his neighbors petitioned the court, demanding that the government carry out all three building phases at once because of drastic changes in the threat the residents of the Gaza periphery faced. They maintained that in May, three months after the government approved the three-phase plan, Palestinian terrorists had begun to use 120 mm. mortars, which were much more dangerous than the Kassam rockets they had been mainly using until then. Two people were killed during that month in kibbutzim that were not budgeted for reinforced safety rooms. The petitioners received a letter from Defense Minister Ehud Barak attesting that the threat to the kibbutzim had increased in the months after the government's decision. However, Prime Minister's Office director-general Ra'anan Dinur rejected the claim and said he saw no reason to allocate more money to the project. When the matter came before the High Court, the justices demanded that the cabinet make up its mind as to whether the threat had increased or not and whether, therefore, it ought to allocate additional money to the program. Hermesh told The Jerusalem Post he had expected the security cabinet to decide on this question at its Wednesday meeting. Instead, it allegedly discussed a matter that had nothing to do with the petition. The High Court hearing will resume after the state informs the court of the decision it made at the meeting - assuming that the court is satisfied with it. According to the Defense Ministry, the security cabinet debate was indeed only on the issue of expanding the security zone by .2 km. However, according to the Prime Minister's Office, both questions - the security perimeter expansion and the issue of spending the NIS 500m. to fortify the housing units already within the zone - were debated and rejected. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On opposed the extra funding. Olmert said during the meeting that "the High Court of Justice cannot dictate to the government where to fortify homes and at what pace." Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzahi Hanegbi criticized the decision, telling Army Radio that "there are needs that don't disappear during the calm." Hanegbi said he did not understand the cabinet's decision, as it was inevitable that the calm would be followed by more violence. New Sderot Mayor David Buskila blasted the decision as well. "It greatly distresses me that the members of the cabinet have chosen economic considerations instead of the recommendations of the security establishment," he said. "It is hard to understand how they reached their decision, at a time when we are witnessing increasing proof of Hamas arming itself with rockets and long-range missiles." Buskila went on to say that the Wednesday incident in which IDF soldiers gunned down four terrorists who were planning to plant a bomb near the Gaza fence was "the clearest proof of the foolishness of this decision."