Pawns in Sderot

There is no infallible Kassam-proof insulation within which to cocoon Sderot's 24,000 residents.

Kassam great 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 1)
Kassam great 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 1)
Who would envy the parents of Sderot? Next Sunday they are supposed to send their children to school again, knowing full well that most of the educational facilities in their town are as vulnerable to Kassam attack as they were last year. That was when the government promised to speed up the fortification of the buildings. The parents, noticing the lack of activity, petitioned the High Court, which in May ordered the state to make sure the job was done in time for the opening of studies. But the summer vacation has come and gone. The bitter joke in Sderot is that the court failed to supply the government with a calendar specifying the date on which kids return to class. The government has asked the court for a three-year postponement of the protect-the-schools deadline. The court has delayed its reply by three weeks. In the interim, presumably, youngsters are expected to attend their still-vulnerable schools; parents vow that they will stay away. Five of Sderot's nine elementary schools are without reinforcement. The situation in secondary schools and kindergartens is worse. Twice in recent days rockets have slammed into kindergarten structures, which were fortunately unoccupied. In the meanwhile, hundreds of pupils have "disappeared" from municipal education rolls. Their parents have opted to register them for schools farther away, sometimes resorting to bogus address changes. Education Minister Yuli Tamir has declared her opposition to such an exodus, suggesting instead that classes be conducted in bomb shelters. The shelters, however, are too few and too small even for emergency stay, never mind ongoing scholastic activity. Tamir's reply: The shelters can be expanded and converted into classrooms. This, of course, merely thrusts the parents back to square one - the waiting game, played out in the shadow of the Kassams. Apart from extensive construction work of the kind the government has proved so signally incapable of organizing, Tamir's brainwave would also necessitate a considerable cash outlay. Nothing could possibly be ready in time. Now Prime Minister Olmert is adding insult to injury by asserting that government promises weren't kept because new schools should be erected. Justifiably incensed, the hapless parents say they feel like pawns pushed around by the executive and the judiciary. If ever a case highlighted the rift between the establishment and the periphery, this is it. Surely the realization that daily Kassam barrages constitute a continuing threat hasn't escaped the government. Ignoring dangers won't make them go away. Nor should it have escaped officialdom that a crisis of confidence is festering. There's no explanation for the failure to grapple with the physical and psychological facets of the issue. The latter aspect is perhaps key. The sad fact is that no amount of metal and concrete reinforcements, even if marshalled in good time, can truly safeguard Sderot. All murders-by-Kassam there have actually occurred outdoors. Yonatan Abukasis, whose daughter Ella was killed in 2005 on her way home from school, insists that the "real problems aren't fortifications but the Kassams themselves. All our casualties were felled in the streets. Will we roof our roads over or walk in tunnels? Fortifications signify that we must submit to bombardments." As the bereaved father stresses, "The state owes protection to Israelis living in indisputably Israeli territory." Indeed it does. There is no infallible Kassam-proof insulation within which to cocoon Sderot's 24,000 residents. Even if there were, it would make no allowances for unavoidable daily ventures beyond secure spaces to stay gainfully employed, shop for groceries or escort kids to and from school. What Sderot really needs is the removal of the menace, not partial defenses. The promise, after Israel pulled out from Gaza two years ago, was that no breach of border tranquility would be tolerated. But Sderot and its environs have known no quiet. The government issues demands for a halt to the Kassams, but no one on the other side is listening. Such leverage as Israel enjoys, such as the conditioning of electricity supplies to the Strip on a halt to the attacks, is not used. Ministers say one moment that the IDF's pinpoint attacks on terror targets are the appropriate response, and the next that a wider ground assault is needed. But nothing is actually done; no coherent policy is followed. And so the pawns of Sderot are left to wait and to worry, with neither protected schools nor the confidence that their leaders are addressing the Kassam threat in such a way as to make defensive precautions unnecessary.