School boycott threat for lack of protected buses

Binyamin parents disgusted with hand-wringing between MK Gafni and Finance Minister, demand children's transportation protection budget.

Mordechai Sones,

Bulletproof bus driving from Kiryat Arba to Jerusalem overturned near Gush Etzion junction
Bulletproof bus driving from Kiryat Arba to Jerusalem overturned near Gush Etzion junction
Flash 90

A NIS 45 million budget earmarked for school bus protection for dozens of schoolchildren in Judea and Samaria has been stuck for four months.

MK Moshe Gafni, chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, said that the delaying factor was the Finance Ministry. The Ministry of Finance claims that the disbursal depends solely on the whim of the committee chairman, and that the Ministry is not preventing him from transferring the bus protection funding.

Education Ministry security directives require transportation companies in Judea and Samaria to move students only in protected buses, and as a result of the budget's non-approval, there are about 200 buses that are 15 years old. In violation of regulations, companies have to use them every day to transport the students, despite the security risk to children involved.

The parents of students at the Derekh Yehudit School in Neriya approached Eldad Ben Zimra, Deputy Director General of the Binyamin Development Company in a public letter, threatening that if the problem of protecting the buses was not solved, they would boycott the opening of the school year.

"We are aware of some recent incidents in which buses were burned while traveling, and only miraculously was there no tragedy. Again and again we hear of cases in which the bus was stalled due to an overheating engine, sometimes halfway between the yishuvim around Arab villages, on narrow and winding roads, which constitutes a security and safety danger," the parents wrote.

"A few weeks ago, a bus full of students began to roll down a slope and the driver found it difficult to stop. Only after a few attempts did he succeed in braking and preventing a catastrophe."

At the end of their appeal, the parents write: "In view of the above, we will no longer agree to rely on a miracle, and we do not intend to wait for tragedy and regret it later. We demand an immediate solution to this serious problem, and if not, we will boycott the opening of the school year."

After an exchange of messages between the Development Company, the municipality, and the parents of the students, and after the company revealed that renewing the fleet of protected buses is not dependent on the company but on state budgetary allocations and that to the best of their knowledge the matter is stuck in the Finance Committee, the company promised to make an effort that buses arriving at their Ulpana will be roadworthy buses. This did not mollify parents who initiated a petition and called on the Prime Minister and Knesset members to intervene and resolve the issue.

In a letter sent by Attorney Avinoam Goelman yesterday to the Attorney General, MK Gafni, and Finance Minister Kahlon, it was said that "the arguments and hand-wringing between you at the student's expense must stop immediately. It is unreasonable and illogical that the budget for protecting students' transportation would be delayed for four months in the Finance Committee, only because of disagreements and ego games."

Goelman called on the Finance Minister to be the responsible adult and to separate the budget from other committee budgets, in order to enable it to be implemented to protect students' transportation. At the end of his letter, Adv. Goelman writes: "I am sure that none of you will be able to sleep at night should a disaster happen because of the use of a defective bus."

MK Mordechai Yogev (Jewish Home) said in response that "the failure to approve the budget for four months constitutes a serious security and safety violation, which will cause serious harm to the tens of thousands of students and even damage to the Merkavim and Hargaz factories that opened production lines that are not working, possibly causing dismissal of employees.

"The significance of not passing the budget is that it is liable to lead to the collapse of the student transportation system in Judea and Samaria, and I hope that the Prime Minister intervenes and ends the situation," added Yogev.



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