Fundamentally Freund: Putting Israel’s home front at risk (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By MICHAEL FREUND 03/15/12)
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Yesterday, more than 265,000 children across southern Israel returned
to school after enduring several days of Palestinian rocket fire from
Gaza. However unappealing the tedium of the classroom may be for many
of them, most are nonetheless surely happy that the risk of attack
has dissipated, at least for now.
Indeed, scenes on television
in recent days of Jewish children
crouching in fear, terrified at the prospect of an incoming explosive
projectile hurtling in their direction, were difficult to watch. Gone
was the usual exuberance and enthusiasm that is normally associated
with Israeli youth. Instead, their young faces were taut with tension
as they huddled and hoped for the best.
Thankfully, none were
injured, as the Palestinian terrorists’ aim is
as misguided as their ideology. And Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile
system proved effective in intercepting dozens of incoming rockets.
But the recent round of violence exposed a critical weakness in
Israel’s home front defenses, one that requires prompt and immediate
rectification: the lack of adequate public bomb shelters, especially
in the nation’s schools.
Take, for example, Beersheba, the
largest city in the Negev.
According to Deputy Mayor Dr. Heftsi
Zohar, there is an acute
shortage of protected areas in the city’s educational
“Most of the schools in Beersheba don’t have
enough shelters or safe
areas,” she told The Jerusalem Post, adding that, “most have secure
spaces, but not enough.”
Zohar added that she is not aware of
any government plans to
construct additional bomb shelters in the city. A friend living in
Beersheba, Professor William Seidelman, confirmed this.
and I live in a newer apartment with a protective Mamad
[sealed room]. But our children and grandchildren, like most Israelis
who live in older housing, do not have access to this protection,” he
said. “One of our daughters and her family are at least five minutes
from the nearest shelter.”
Usually, people have less than a
minute after the siren sounds to get
Residents of Ofakim confronted a different problem
when their town
came under attack. To their dismay, they discovered that the bomb
shelters in their city were filthy and unsuited for long stays in the
event of a prolonged crisis.
As one Ofakim resident told
Ynet, “When we opened the shelter doors
it was awful. It’s dirty here and it stinks, the toilets aren’t
working, and some of the people are sleeping on pieces of fabric
instead of mattresses.”
To be sure, no one expects a public bomb
shelter to resemble the
presidential suite at the St. Regis hotel. But if the government and
municipal officials do not maintain shelters and keep them clean and
well-stocked, it will only deter citizens from seeking them out when
they need them most.
The lack of public shelters isn’t the
government’s only failing when
it comes to protecting the civilian population. Overall, the
situation is more dire than most of us realize. MK Ze’ev Bielski,
chairman of the Knesset subcommittee that deals with home front
defense, recently put it quite bluntly: “The home front is not
Speaking to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Bielski said
improvements have been made since the 2006 Second Lebanon War, but he
described the current situation as “not good,” pointing out that 1.7
million Israelis still have no access to any kind of physical
protection. That is one out of every five people in the
Worse yet, a whopping 40 percent of the public do not
have gas masks,
and the government only has an additional 1 million masks in storage.
This means that if a war were to erupt, over 2 million Israelis would
not have masks in case of a chemical or biological attack.
is the responsibility of the government to provide basic
protection for its citizens, and the government is not fulfilling its
responsibilities,” Bielski correctly noted.
Given the likelihood
of a conflict with Iran in the upcoming year, it
is more essential than ever that the government take immediate steps
to bolster the preparedness of the home front. Professor Seidelman of
Beersheba suggested a number of simple yet urgent steps that the
government should take, which include surveying all existing shelters
in public spaces and buildings to assess their readiness as well as
ensuring they are accessible and habitable.
Proper signs need to
be put up, with proper markings and directions
in multiple languages, to guarantee quick and easy access. Maps
highlighting public shelters should be distributed to every household
and the information should be made available on the Internet as well.
Moreover, the government needs to invest in building additional
shelters, with priority given to schools and kindergartens within
rocket range of Gaza.
It is simply inexcusable that after all
these years of ongoing
Palestinian attacks, the residents of the south still do not have
suitable protection. The nation can ill afford to be ill-prepared,
particularly since the next war could see rockets coming at us from
Hamas in the south, Hezbollah in the north and Iran to the
This will put Israel’s entire home front at risk, unless
we act now
with foresight and prudence. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post
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