Nearly Half of non-Jewish Israelis Lack Access to Bomb Shelters, Comptroller Warns

Watchdog says more than half a million Israelis have inadequate protection available in the event of war

Inside a bomb shelter in the Golan Heights in May 2018.
Gil Eliyahu

Nearly half of Israel’s non-Jewish population, some 550,000 people, have no access to shelters or protected spaces in the event of hostilities, according to a state comptroller’s report released on Monday.

The report, which surveys 71 non-Jewish local authorities, cites numerous security deficiencies, including public shelters that are insufficient for the population, schools that have no protected areas, communities where the majority of residents have no shelter at all and private shelters that are not properly inspected.

Thus, for example, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira found that tens of thousands of people in Umm al-Fahm and Nazareth have no access to a shelter.

According to the report, only 11 of the 71 localities examined have public shelters, and there in three of these 11 there is only one public shelter. Most public shelters lack the emergency equipment required by the Home Front Command.

Seventy of the 71 authorities examined did not adopt the existing bylaw or enact their own laws regarding the operation of private shelters. Only 17 out of the 71 local councils even had a budget for shelter and protection between 2015 and 2017.

The report notes that the protection deficiencies in non-Jewish communities were noted by the comptroller a decade ago yet had not been fixed, “and the gaps in protection in the non-Jewish sector remain.”

Even when there are public shelters, they are often unusable, the report says. For example, a nonprofit association took over the only shelter In Majdal Shams, located in the Golan Heights, and knocked down its two emergency exits.

The local council did nothing. In nearby Masadeh, there are two public shelters; the larger one has no air conditioning, and the key to the smaller one couldn’t be found  during the comptroller’s inspection. When the lock was broken, the shelter was found to be filthy and unusable.

The comptroller also found many deficiencies in schools. While around 11 percent of Jewish students (257,000) lack access to shelters, the same is true for is over 38 percent (approximately 127,000 without protection) among non-Jewish students.

According to the comptroller, the Education Ministry did not conduct regular inspections in the towns examined and equipment required by the protection regulations is lacking in most of the schools examined, including first aid kits, drinking water tanks and working fire extinguishers. Shelters in some schools were being improperly used as storage rooms. The comptroller also found that Education Ministry data on the level of protection in several Bedouin schools was inaccurate.

The comptroller points out that the Home Front Command did not use its authority to demand that the local councils maintain the shelters properly. The command conducted inspections in only three towns with public shelters between 2015 and 2017.

The Home Front Command said in resposne that the shelters in Masadeh, Kafr Kama, Peki’in, Shfaram and Bir al-Maksur were due to be inspected in 2018, but that the command isn’t authorized to force the local authorities to correct the deficiencies.

The report also criticizes the government, noting that the funds provided by the government ministries to reduce the problem in non-Jewish communities were insufficient.

The Education Ministry said in response that protection gaps exists in all communities, not just the non-Jewish ones, as has been the case since the state’s founding.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office said that the situation is known to the Home Front Command and to the Defense Ministry.

“In contrast to what is stated in the report, the Home Front Command’s instructions to the local authorities to monitor the condition of public shelters are clear to all the authorities,” the spokesman said.

“As a condition for receiving a budget from the Interior Ministry, a civil defense budget memo is signed every year, constituting a declaration by the local authority that it recognizes its responsibility to maintain public shelters and to allocate funds for this purpose.”