Gaza Border Communities Demand Better Protection Against Rockets

Hof Ashkelon council head says in his region alone, there are 12 kindergartens that are only partially protected from rockets.

"The kindergarten near where the Qassam rocket hit is only partially protected," Hof Ashkelon council head Yair Farjun told Haaretz on Tuesday. "In the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council alone, there are 12 kindergartens and they are only partially protected - in other words the roofs are reinforced, but the walls are not."

"The kindergartens were reinforced during in the first round [of rockets], some three years ago. The prevailing view of the Home Front Command at the time was that if the roof is reinforced, that is enough," Farjun explained.

Spot where Qassam rocket fell - Eliyahu Hershkovitz = Dec. 21, 2010
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

"Then the Home Front Command determined that reinforcing the roof was in fact insufficient and it was decided the kindergartens would be stripped of the old reinforcement and built from scratch with full protection. The state plan is to have all kindergartens fully protected by 2011, but in the meantime there are many kindergartens that are not protected today," he said.

According to the February 2008 government decision, communities situated less than 4.5 kilometers from the Gaza Strip border will gradually be protected fully, with kindergartens and other educational institutions topping the list of priorities. Communities beyond the 4.5-km radius from the Gaza border will not be given full protection, in part because their distance from the closest possible rocket-launching point in the Strip makes protecting them with the Iron Dome system more effective.

"A total of NIS 600 million was allotted to implement the program that would reinforce structures within the 4.5-kilometer radius," said Haim Yalin, who heads the Eshkol Regional Council. "But the budget for the year has been spent and more funds will only be available in 2011. Six communities remain without protection."

"I truly hope the government procedures will not bring us to a point where a project to save lives is undermined by petty bureaucracy," he added.

Not only is protection for those communities close to the Gaza border far from reaching completion, but the deployment of the Iron Dome missile defense system - meant to safeguard the more distant communities - is not expected to occur anytime soon, if at all.

"One must not have exaggerated expectations about the sort of protection the system will provide. This is not a perfect response," outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said on Tuesday, at a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

"The reality in the Gaza Strip is fragile and explosive and we have no guarantees that the situation there will not deteriorate," he added. "We will evaluate Iron Dome when it becomes operational and it is the Israel Defense Forces who will decide where it will be deployed, along with the political leadership."

Meanwhile, the High Court of Justice announced on Tuesday that it would deliberate regarding a petition filed by residents of communities bordering the Strip, demanding the state be ordered to deploy Iron Dome near their communities.

According to the petitioners, by not deploying the system the government is in violation of the original decision which led to the development of Iron Dome, leaving thousands of civilians exposed to rocket fire from the Strip.