Ongoing rocket fire casts doubt on start of Israeli school year

Click photo to download. Caption: Students are evacuated from a school in the southern Israeli city of Sderot in November 2009 after a Qassam rocket hit the building. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90.

By Israel Hayom/Exclusive to JNS.org

Leading up to the start of a new academic year in Israel, parents in the rocket-battered south are saying they do not feel safe sending their children back to school.

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at his weekly cabinet meeting that the current operation in Gaza would not end before the beginning of the school year on Sept. 1. Gaza terrorists have fired thousands of rockets and mortars into the communities in the south in recent weeks.

Israeli officials—including Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, and Education Minister Shay Piron—agree that the safety of students and their parents is the top consideration guiding the decision on whether or not to begin the school year.

On Sunday, Piron said that the Education Ministry “is prepared to provide the residents of the south with a wide array of educational solutions, at any time or place.”

“The solutions will be provided in accordance with the [IDF] Homefront Command instructions and tailored to the needs of the families living in the south,” said Piron. “The best interest of the students and the parents is the education system’s top priority.”

Education Ministry Director-General Michal Cohen met with representatives of the Homefront Command and the National Emergency Authority on Sunday to examine possible alternatives for the coming school year. Some of the options raised were to absorb the children of the south in schools situated in northern and central Israel, to hold small classes in shifts at schools built to withstand rocket fire, to hold synchronized lessons remotely while students remain at home, and to launch activities in bomb shelters.

“Every student that comes to school, even if the school is not in the student’s home district, will be welcome,” Cohen said.

But parents in southern communities are in no rush to send their children to school as long as there is no guarantee of safety.

“This insane situation has raised the biggest dilemma of my life,” Marina Levy said. “My children and I can’t wait for school to begin because there is a limit to how long you can keep the kids inside protected rooms. Also, not sending the children to school would be a wonderful reward to give to Hamas for the terror they’re imposing on us. What am I supposed to do? Maybe the leaders of the country have the answers.”

Ashkelon resident Maj. (res.) Ran Levy, the chairman of the Dromim (“Southerners”) movement, started a petition calling on the authorities not to begin the school year.

“I’m not just thinking about myself, I’m thinking about the general population in the south,” said Ran, whose son is set to begin the second grade. He said his petition has received more than 700 signatures.

Some community heads are opposed to beginning the school year because many of the schools within rocket range are not protected against projectiles. Kiryat Malachi Mayor Eliyahu Zohar said that “we will seriously consider whether [or not] to begin the school year.”

“The guiding principle will be that if there is even a remote chance that a single hair from a child’s head will be harmed, school will not open,” he said.

Sdot Negev Regional Council head Tamir Idan was equally decisive. “The Sept. 1 date is not set in stone,” he said. “We won’t begin the school year as planned if the massive fire continues in the coming days. We have witnessed more casualties in the last few days.”

Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni similarly said, “Under no circumstances will we return to our normal routine under fire.”

“Only when it is certain that the threat of rockets has been eliminated will the students return to the kindergartens and schools,” he said.

—With reporting by Yael Branovsky, Gadi Golan, Nitsi Yakov, and Shlomo Cesana

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Posted on August 25, 2014 and filed under Israel, News.