The scene at the Jerusalem High Court of Justice on Thursday morning, February 8, 2007 was surreal.
Three members of the Sderot Parents Association had petitioned the Israel High Court of Justice to ask for a court order for the government of Israel to allocate funds to provide full protection for all 24 educational institutions in the city of Sderot.
Joining in the suit was the legal counsel of the Western Negev “Shaar HaNegev” Regional Council. At this point in time, following 1,300 missile attacks on Sderot and the western Negev since the Disengagement, the schools in the area remain only partially protected.
The Israeli civil defense command had decided to provide the proper protection for the first, second and third grades of the schools in Sderot and the other schools in the Western Negev, leaving other grades unprotected. As citizens of Sderot and the area kept up their demands for complete protection of the schools, the response from the central government in Jerusalem was consistent – that the government would simply not provide the appropriate budget necessary for this purpose. Until now, this was explained by Israeli government officials in terms of budgetary considerations – a normal reason for any bureaucracy that has not allocated funds for emergency considerations.. However, Israel does have The Basic Law, which guards the rights and dignity for all of its citizens, and which gives all citizens the right to sue the government in the Israeli citizens court – the Israel High Court of Justice.
Experience has it in Israel that when a citizens group needs budget to protect a fundamental need, that citizen group simply sues in the Israel High Court of Justice and the government often orders the government to find a way to protect human rights, and to find the necessary funds for that purpose.
However, after the parents association of Sderot made their convincing case to the Israel High Court of Justice that their children deserved the right to full protection, Raanan Giladi, the young lawyer representing the government of Israel delivered a surprising response, stating that the Israeli government should NOT protect school children after third grade, since the Israel Civil Defense Command had determined that children had a fifteen second warning from the time the siren sounds until the missile hits for the children to run for cover in the safe areas of the school.
An official of the Israel Civil Defense Command, Michel Levy, testified that they had tested trial runs and that they had determined that 15 seconds was enough time for the children to take cover. What Levy “forgot” to mention was that Israeli combat soldiers had run the fifteen seconds to safe spots in the schools, not 30 or 40 children who would have to scramble out of their chairs in their classrooms and run out the one classroom door in search of a safe spot.
One of the Sderot parents, Alon Davidi, testified at the session that that he and his wife, as parents of five children in the Sderot schools, wanted to have minimal confidence that when he sent off his kids to school in the morning to classrooms that were safe, no matter how old his children were.
Judge Beinish, head of the Israel Supreme Court, presiding at this special session of the Israel High Court of Justice, stated that the government’s argument was not convincing and asked how long would it take to provide a program to protect all of the schools. Giladi, the government attorney, asked for 45 days to provide a proposal in this regard – and the parents association asked why this would take so long.
Judge Beinish gave the two sides two weeks in which to meet and to discuss a formula for full protection of the schools, to which Israel Civil Defense official Mishel Levy responded once again that “full protection is not necessary- we are working on the concept of safe areas in the schools”. Judge Beinish concluded the court hearing with an unusual appeal to the government of Israel – to reconsider its policy of not providing full protection to the school children of Sderot and the Western Negev.
Judge Beinish then asked that the Sderot parents association to use the next two weeks to provide the government with a precise list of what schools and what classrooms still need protection.
While the court was meeting in special session, Arabs fired three more missiles at populated areas of the western Negev, while the British Foreign Secretary, on a special visit to Israel, praised the Israeli government for its restraint in the wake of the 99 missile attacks on the Israeli population centers that have occurred since Israel declared a unilateral cease fire on November 26th, 2006.
Meanwhile, the Sderot Information Center for the Western Negev Ltd. arranged for two of the representatives of the parents association – Batya Kedar and Chava Gad – to be interviewed by the legal affairs correspondent of the Israel government Voice of Israel radio network, so that Kedar and Gad could take their message to the people of Israel. Kedar and Gad spoke as “mothers of children under fire”, and asked that people throughout Israel and the Jewish world demand that the Israeli government provide minimum protection for their children under fire. Kedar and Gad told the radio that they will spend the better part of the next two weeks preparing a thorough comprehensive report that will document the minimal security needs for the schools of Sderot.
It will be instructive to see if the Israel Civil Service Command, which remains firm in its opposition to providing any further protection for the schools, will be overruled.
Everything now depends on the public pressure that will be brought to bear on the administration of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni and Defense Minister Amir Peretz to protect the children of Sderot and the Western Negev LTD, no matter what the cost will be to the budget of the government of Israel and to the ego of Israel Civil Service officer Michel Levy.