By Mijal Grinberg, Haaretz Correspondent
On Thursday, in light of the security situation, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), a private organization funded mainly by contributions from the United States, announced it would fund the work to increase Sderot's protection against Qassams, which could start in the coming days.
Scenes of dozens of people shoving each other and begging to get on buses leaving Sderot proved a painful illustration of the frustration and fear of the residents. One reason for the pressure they are under is the sense of insecurity stemming from the lack of shelters in the city.
Haaretz sought to understand how much money has been invested in the town in recent years and where - in lieu of the state - private bodies have stepped in.
The demand to reinforce houses in the area around the Gaza Strip arose in March 2001, when the first Qassams landed. Out of the four regional councils and the city of Sderot, the reinforcement of the houses in Kibbutz Nahal Oz was approved. But even that stopped. As the situation deteriorated over the past year, attempts were made to get approval to reinforce 5,000 homes within seven kilometers of the Gaza Strip those with tile roofs and no shelters or secure rooms.
In February, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised the heads of the regional councils that reinforcement would be approved and pledged NIS 300million for the job. Some NIS 10 million has been approved for an initial survey. Since then, the Home Front has submitted to various bodies an estimate of NIS 900 million for necessary reinforcement. Alon Schuster, the head of the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council, and his predecessor, MK Shai Hermesh, believe the cost is lower.
"I want to stay," one resident, a neighbor of Defense Minister Amir Peretz, said. "But let them reinforce the house."
On Wednesday a private contractor approached tycoon Arcadi Gaydamak about reinforcing the city. Gaydamak took one meeting with them, and on Friday he is expected to tour the city to estimate costs.
Sderot has 58 public shelters, none of which are suitable for extended stays. According to the city's security officer, 30 shelters "have no basic infrastructure like electricity and can't be inhabited even for five minutes."
Twenty-eight shelters are being used for other purposes like afternoon day care centers or synagogues, and lack shelter equipment. A request for funding to improve infrastructure in the shelters was submitted to the Home Front Command, but the funding has not been received.
With regard to the kibbutzim, according to local estimates, each kibbutz has about 15 to 20 shelters, most uninhabitable for long periods. The money to change the situation, millions of shekels, has not been found.
Last June a Qassam fell on a school in Sderot. As a result, its was decided to move ahead on reinforcing the schools. Twenty-four schools were given reinforced spaces where students would go if the alarm was sounded. Parents and others argued that full protection was
necessary, and petitioned the High Court. In the end it was decided to fully reinforce classrooms in grades one through three, but this has not been started; 151 public kindergartens have been reinforced.