Gov't censured over Kassam protection

Sderot petitioner: "Government is waiting for family to die before providing home shelters."

kassam damage 224 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
kassam damage 224 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The government is preparing a plan to cope with terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip, but cannot say when it will be ready for implementation or what it will include, the state told the High Court of Justice Wednesday. The state's representative, attorney Dina Silver, was responding to a petition filed by 30 Sderot residents demanding that the government build safety rooms for 800 families who live in houses without concrete roofs. The houses were built during the 1960s and early '70s. Shortly before the hearing, terrorists fired 18 Kassam rockets at Sderot and the vicinity. Attorney Yosef Cohen, a resident of Sderot and one of the petitioners, as well as their legal representative, told the court, "We are fed up. We didn't suddenly decide to squeeze billions out of the government. We have approached the government time and time again and tried to avoid asking for redress from the High Court." Cohen said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and various cabinet ministers had repeatedly promised to build shelters in Sderot. He referred to a May 20 letter from Prime Minister's Office director-general Ra'anan Dinur that told Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal the government was going to budget between NIS 300 million to NIS 500m. for shelters that very morning. Cohen said it cost between NIS 40,000 to NIS 60,000 to build one safety room. It would cost the government NIS 50m. to build them for all the families living in unprotected houses, he said. Several years ago, Cohen said, there was one intensive-care ambulance that served the entire region, but the government refused to provide one for Sderot. Then, he said, a Kassam rocket killed two people in the town, and now Sderot has four intensive-care ambulances. "Is the government waiting until a family is found dead under the debris of its home before building the safety rooms?" Cohen asked. Many of the people living in these unprotected homes were elderly or poor, he said. Ten of them, who could not stand the tension any longer, had taken out loans of up to NIS 60,000 to build safety rooms at their own expense and were now spending NIS 1,600 per month to repay the loans. Presiding Justice Ayala Procaccia repeatedly asked Silver why it had taken the government so long to finally sit down and start working on a comprehensive plan for dealing with the threat to Sderot and the Gaza periphery communities when the problem had existed for years. Silver was hard-pressed to answer that question. She told the court the issue was a complex one that required serious thought. She said it was not certain to what extent construction of safety rooms would be part of the ultimate solution. She also estimated that some 10,500 homes required shelters and that the cost of building them would be NIS 1.26 billion. Procaccia tried to get Silver to state that the government would announce its plan by the end of January. But Silver said she could not make such a promise in the name of the government. The hearing was tense. Cohen argued forcefully for the safety rooms and sharply criticized the government for refusing to build them until now. David Mansour, a resident of one of the unprotected homes, interrupted the proceedings from time to time with angry accusations against the state. "Children of 12 and 13 wet their pants at night because they are so frightened," he told The Jerusalem Post after the hearing. "If the government doesn't want to build shelters, let it evacuate us. We are not canon fodder." Wednesday's hearing was a preliminary procedure over the petitioners' request for a show-cause order. If the court grants the request, there will be a second round in which the court will consider whether to make the order absolute by instructing the state to build the safety rooms. The court said it would hand down its ruling on the request for a show-cause order soon.