Exactly one week before schools across the country are set to open their doors for a new school year, parents in the rocket-battered south are saying that they do not feel safe sending their children back to school.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at his weekly cabinet meeting that the current operation in the Gaza Strip 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, and several community leaders were set to meet with Education Minister Shay Piron on Monday to discuss their concerns.
Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon agreed with Piron that the safety of the students and their parents was the top consideration guiding the decision whether to begin the school year.
"Currently all the schools within rocket range are being individually inspected," said one official. "Every parent will know before the school year begins how and where the studies will be held."
Piron was scheduled to meet in Beersheba with the heads of the southern local councils and towns at the behest of Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich. 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 Homefront Command instructions and tailored to the needs of the families living in the south. The best interest of the students and the parents is the education system's top priority."
Education Ministry Director-General Michal Cohen, who was also scheduled to participate in the meeting in Beersheba, 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; to launch activities in bomb shelters, and more.
"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 Levy, whose son is set to begin the second grade. He said he had 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 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."
Sdot Negev Regional Council head Tamir Idan was equally decisive. "The September 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 said that as long as rockets continue to be fired, there will definitely be no school.
"Under no circumstances will we return to our normal routine under fire," he said. "Only when it is certain that the threat of rockets has been eliminated will the students return to the kindergartens and schools."
"The education minister has announced that his ministry is prepared for any eventuality, but we are in a state of war," said the chairman of the parents' council.