'Gov't won't build safe rooms for 500 Sderot hesder students'

The government has refused to build security rooms for 500 students living in mobile homes at the Sderot hesder yeshiva, Shlomo Kostiner, a senior yeshiva official, told the Knesset State Control Committee on Wednesday. Students at hesder yeshivot combine IDF service and Torah study. Committee chairman Zevulun Orlev (National Union/National Religious Party) called the meeting to review progress in providing more protection from rocket and mortar attacks for Sderot and the Gaza periphery in accordance with cabinet decisions to reinforce schools, detached homes with tile roofs, and apartment buildings with soft concrete roofs. The first part of the discussion was little more than a formality. Orlev's main aim was to bring together senior representatives of the Defense and Housing ministries and to reach an agreement with them on the yeshiva issue. "Five hundred students live on the yeshiva campus 24 hours a day," he said. "This isn't a factory or a university. It is inconceivable that they won't be protected. I expect senior civil servants to solve the problem. The students deserve to be protected." Construction and Housing Ministry director-general Haim Pialkov told Orlev that the law, and the cabinet decision to build safe rooms in Sderot and the Gaza periphery, prevented the government from paying for such rooms at the yeshiva. Pialkov said that legislation had been passed in the wake of the First Gulf War in the early 1990s requiring that all new homes had to include a safe room, paid for by the owner. The yeshiva was established after the law was passed. Orlev replied that the yeshiva was a nonprofit public institution. It was therefore unfair to put the burden on the yeshiva. He added that the cabinet decision had created a committee to deal with exceptional cases. The yeshiva was an exceptional case, he argued, even more so than Sapir Academic College, which had received money to build safe rooms even though no students lived on the campus. "I don't intend to give in on this matter," Orlev said. "The hesder yeshiva in Sderot has 500 students. It is the biggest of the 40 hesder yeshivot in Israel, even though there are much more comfortable and convenient ones in the center of the country. Students came to Sderot out of idealism, to help. Many of them stay on after they finish their studies." Orlev said he would hold another meeting to discuss the matter with Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i (Labor), Ra'anan Dinur, the director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim (Kadima) and the head of budgets in the Treasury. Meanwhile, Pialkov told the committee that tenders had been issued for all 2,700 security rooms budgeted by the government in the first phase of the reinforcement plan. The plan applies to housing within 4.5 kilometers of the Gaza Strip. Pialkov said he thought that all the safety rooms would be built by November 11, 2009. He added that owners of private homes could choose either to have state-appointed contractors build the safety rooms or build them themselves with a government grant.