Gaza periphery kibbutzim demand immediate protection

Residents petition High Court demanding government immediately start building security rooms for their communities.

nir oz mortar 224 (photo credit: AP)
nir oz mortar 224
(photo credit: AP)
Ofir Libstein is a resident of one of eight kibbutzim located within a radius of 4.5 kilometers from the Gaza Strip who petitioned the High Court of Justice on Tuesday, demanding that the government immediately start building security rooms for their communities. Libstein lives with his wife, Vered, and two children, seven-year-old Aviva and four-year-old Nitzan, on Kibbutz Kfar Aza. Their home is made of cement blocks and an asbestos roof. On May 9, 2008, Libstein's neighbor, Jimmy Kedoshim was killed by a mortar. One week later, more mortars were fired from Gaza. One landed 50 meters from Libstein's home and a fragment tore a hole in the basketball backboard in front of the house and landed on the balcony. Even though the state has declared that the anti-rocket defense system it is working on will not protect communities located within 4.5 kilometers from the Gaza Strip border, it has refused to provide a budget to immediately build safety rooms for 11 of the communities within that range, while, at the same time, agreeing to allocate funding for others. According to a decision approved on February 24, 2008, the government agreed to provide immediate funding to build reinforced concrete safety rooms for homes without "soft" roofs in Sderot, Nir Am, Gavyam, Erez, Avim, Zikim, Netiv Ha'asara, Nahal Oz, Kerem Shalom, Kissufim, Miflasim and Carmiya. The decision declared that funding would be forthcoming for the rest of the rural communities within the 4.5 radius at an unspecified time in the future. This provision only applied to Kfar Aza, Sa'ad, Or Haner, Alumim, Nirim, Nir Oz, Sufa and Nir Yitzhak. The government made the distinction between the first group and the second according to the results of an examination of the number of Kassam rockets and mortar shells that fell on each community within the 4.5 kilometer radius during the period of time leading up to its decision. The petitioners called this distinction "arbitrary, unreasonable, unegalitarian and absurd." Furthermore, they wrote, the threat to all the communities changed drastically in May 2008, when the Palestinian terrorists in Gaza introduced 120 millimeter mortars which were much more accurate than the Kassams and smaller mortars used until then. Since then, two members of kibbutzim which had not been allocated money to build reinforced safety rooms have been killed and several others wounded. "As a result of the change in the security situation, the government decision regarding the distinction between the budgeted and unbudgeted communities had changed from one of unreasonability to one of complete illogic and manifest unreasonability." The petitioners, represented by Ashkelon lawyer Eduardo Wasser, wrote that Defense Minister Ehud Barak supported the petitioners but that the decision to allocate the funds lay in the hands of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The head of the PM's Office, Ra'anan Dinur, has refused to authorize the funding, Wasser charged. The defense ministry estimated that the cost of the first phase, which is already underway, was NIS 327 million and involved 3,300 housing units. The second and third phase of the program involve construction of 4,700 safety rooms at a cost of about NIS 500 million. Phase two includes unprotected apartment buildings in Sderot, while phase three includes the eight unprotected kibbutzim.