Amid incendiary kites, flaming balloons, and other Gaza projectiles, Hemdat HaDarom College has inaugurated its new bomb shelter. College officials have expressed anger that in spite of government and IDF promises to fund the shelter, the school was forced to deplete its own budget for the fortification. One school administrator said “We cannot allow 1,500 students, faculty, and employees to be exposed to terror attacks because of bureaucracy.”
School officials say after the Education Ministry, Knesset Budget Committee, and IDF Home Front Command did not transfer promised funds to build shelters for the security of students, faculty, and employees of Hemdat HaDarom, the institution built one itself at a cost of $350,000. "We felt relief that we could now provide basic security to our students and employees, but this project created a serious budget deficit," a school official said.
In wake of the 2014 Protective Edge military campaign, educational institutions within 15 kilometers of the Gaza border received government funding for shelters. However, only elementary and secondary education institutions over seven kilometers from the border are eligible for this assistance.
"Hemdat HaDarom is in direct line of fire from Gaza at a distance of a mere nine kilometers, and is accredited and funded by the Education Ministry," they say in the school, "but the government somehow feels it has no obligation to protect the over 1,500 students, faculty, and employees who are on campus six days a week.
"Since 2014 Hemdat HaDarom has repeatedly applied for government funds for additional shelters, with the Education Ministry and Knesset Budget Committee each referring the issue to the other. IDF Home Front Command also promised funds, but never delivered. The College was left with no choice but to use funds needed for educational purposes to construct the new protected area. Hemdat HaDarom now needs to raise funds to put money back into its operating budget so it can continue to offer its students the quality of higher education they expect and deserve," school officials added.
College President Prof. Shaul Krakower says, "We have 10 seconds to reach a protected area, and if Hamas were ever able to injure anyone on campus, there would be serious casualties and damage. In the Sapir College in Sderot the government built shelters only after people on campus were injured, but here we made sure this won't happen. We spent a million shekels building a new protected area using funds that should have been allocated to salaries and equipment, but we simply couldn't compromise the lives of our students and faculty and needed to take action."
College Executive Director Mr. Kobi Wizman adds, "According to Home Front Command, all other education institutions in firing range of Gaza have sufficient protected areas that were adequately funded by the government. Only Hemdat HaDarom fell between the cracks. The College is an institution accredited for higher education, yet the Education Ministry won't budget shelters. The Knesset Budget Committee claims we aren't within its jurisdiction because we're budgeted by the Ministry. Home Command agreed in principle to fund us, but in the end didn't release any funds.
"Even after completing this new protected area there remain other sites on campus without adequate shelters, including those heavily populated by students and faculty, such as dormitories and the library.
"We now need to find funding to cover the operating debt incurred by taking responsibility for the security of our students and workers.
"We hope Home Command and the Education Ministry will come forth with the funds they promised us before it’s too late."