Civilians Without Protection

Too many residents of Israel's southern cities’ older neighborhoods live without a security room or a public shelter nearby– or with a shelter that cannot accommodate all the area’s residents

The old building that was damaged by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in the southern Israeli city of  Ashkelon, November 13, 2018.
Ilan Assayag

The first day of this round of fighting between the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas highlighted one of the most exposed nerves of the Israeli home front: The shortage of protected spaces. A rocket that hit an old building in Ashkelon without reinforced security rooms took the life of a man and critically wounded two women.

There’s no need to explain the importance of protected spaces in rocket-prone areas. It is enough to see Tuesday’s tragedy in Ashkelon and compare its harsh results to the rocket fire on the Tamano family home in Be’er Sheva last month, where the mother and three children escaped unharmed because the home had a security room. Too many residents of the southern cities’ older neighborhoods live without a security room or a public shelter nearby– or with a shelter that cannot accommodate all the area’s residents.

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In 2008 the state began an extensive project, costing over 1 billion shekels ($271 million), to reinforce more than 10,000 residential buildings in communities up to seven kilometers from the Gaza border. This project included many of the regional councils in the Gaza vicinity and the city of Sderot. But since that decision, Hamas has improved its capabilities and its rockets can reach Ashdod, Be’er Sheva and Tel Aviv, and even further north. As a result, many cities are now within range, but there is no national plan for reinforcing the buildings there because the state says it doesn’t have the money.

The requirement to build residential buildings with security rooms has been in effect since the early 1990s. But in Netivot, Ofakim, Be’er Sheva, Ashdod, Ashkelon and other cities there are many structures built years earlier that don’t have security rooms. Shai Hajaj, chairman of the Merhavim Regional Council, called for the government to advance his proposal to encourage the construction of security rooms in buildings built before 1991. “The government has to provide protection for the residents,” he wrote. “We must remember that the solution of public shelters isn’t efficient, and doesn’t provide a real response for the elderly and children. You can’t reach a public shelter in 30 seconds. This lack [of security] is especially felt in this region when there are escalations.”

Sderot has successfully proven that homes can be protected. But residents of other cities deserve this same basic right. The state must advance convenient and speedy solutions for the residents of all those areas lacking protection. The Iron Dome anti-rocket system cannot deal with everything, and human life can’t be abandoned.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.