Court tells state to speed up protection of classrooms

In the shadow of a rocket attack in Sderot that killed one woman and severely wounded another, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch severely reprimanded the state Wednesday for failing to reinforce all the classrooms in the town. "Dozens of kindergartens are unprotected," Beinisch told the state representatives. "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 cabinet allocated NIS 210 million to beef up the Gaza periphery - the towns and villages within seven kilometers of the Strip. Some of that sum was earmarked to reinforce all of the kindergartens. On July 2, the cabinet allocated an additional NIS 75m. to reinforce 16 elementary and eight secondary schools in the 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 buildings where all of the students could be rushed to in case of a Kassam attack. "A classroom will be regarded as being protected if it, itself, is a protected area or if there is a protected area nearby that the children can get to as soon as an alarm is sounded," he said. This 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 in protected zones outside the classroom." Kattar 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-story school, that means they have reinforced six out of 30 classrooms." Giladi argued that security experts had determined that it was sufficient to give the students 15 seconds to reach the protected areas from their classrooms because warning sirens sounded 20 seconds before rockets struck the town. As for those instances when there was no warning period at all, he added, children were still in no greater danger than if they were on their way to or from school, or in their unreinforced homes. The state said that reinforcing 24 schools according to the government's plan would usually take six to nine months. Working day and night, Shabbat and holidays, the contractors completed work on the 16 primary schools in the area on September 3, and on four of the eight secondary schools on October 16. The petitioners are demanding that the state reinforce every roof of every educational facility immediately. Many of the kindergartens are still not reinforced despite the NIS 210m. budget, most of which had already been allocated to the Defense Ministry before the cabinet added NIS 75m. for the schools. Only seven of the 31 kindergartens in Sderot have been reinforced, 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."