I must admit that I am very moved by this meeting with this school’s principal, Dina, and with your students here in Sderot, which always has been and is still a part of my agenda and that of the Government, as well as all those who work with me, every day and for a very long period of time. I would also like to tell Uriel, who read me a poem, and Oren, that I share, and have shared for a long time, your fears and prayers, your concerns and those of your family, as well as your heart’s desire to have one moment of comfort. I am sorry, Oren, I was not able to welcome you in my office, but I asked that a visit to your office be organized, and I thank you for welcoming me. Thank you very much.
Honorable Deputy Minister of Defense, my friend, Matan Vilnai,
Honorable Mayor, David Buskila,
I take advantage of this opportunity to wish you luck in this position with which you are already familiar, as you have served as Mayor of Sderot in the past. When you were mayor, there was quiet. I wish that in this period of the next five years, the quiet, security, tranquility and calm will return to the city of Sderot under your leadership.
Honorable Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office, Raanan Dinur,
Madam District Director, my friend, Amira Haim, who has accompanied me and who I have accompanied for years during very difficult times, hard struggles and complicated experiences, but you have done this for many years with determination, courage and primarily and most importantly with a smile on your face and with hope, all of which provide great strength.
My friend, builder of the country, strengthener of the country, Victor Bar-Gil, member of the Ministry of Defense – you have already heard that he, along with his entire staff, is responsible for the excellent work being done here in order to shield the city of Sderot. I will speak further on the subject of shielding and what we are doing to stop the need for shielding.
Ronny Sari, Colonel Ronny Sari of the Home Front Command, head of the Construction Division of the Home Front Command, who is on the alert day in and day out here,
Division Heads and Commander of the Home Front Command in Sderot,
And of course, last but not least, the smiling Dina Houri, principal of this school, which is part of the Amit network,
And most of all, dear students,
The Government of Israel has invested NIS 2.5 billion in Sderot and its environs over the past several years. It could be said that perhaps more is needed, but I do not think there is any other place in the State of Israel in which so much has been invested – for the population groups and in the amount – as the State of Israel has invested over the past five years, between 2003 and 2008, in Sderot and the Gaza Envelope, in Ashkelon and in Netivot. It is a tremendous investment, and an inevitable one, because in the end what is important to us all and was important from the first moment – and this is something which occupies our time and our minds daily – is that you should be able to sleep soundly at night, that you will not hear the sound of missiles falling, the whistling of their falling or the alarm “red alert, red alert”. This desire to ease your daily life is what stood and stands at the center of the State of Israel’s national agenda. We invested NIS 745 million in shielding educational institutions. Again, one can ask, “What is NIS 745 million?” Dina, this is a considerable sum, and it is money which was not easy to spend, but we spent it out of concern for you. We invested approximately NIS 1 billion in shielding residences – NIS 927 million. This is an enormous amount. We shielded public buildings and public spaces in the amount of NIS 150 million for example. I would like you to understand, protected structures are scattered all across the city and in the Gaza Envelope communities, which can be entered and one can feel safe when the red alert is sounded. We did this in 254 public shelters; we are working on 124 more of them, and in total we will have 378 protected shelters which anyone off the street can enter when he is driving, not necessarily when he is at home and can hide in his protected room. He can receive protection and feel safe.
We built protected spaces in public institutions and informal educational institutions. We are building 120 and have finished 64 of them. The rest will be completed by the end of March – 30 by the end of the year and another 26 by the end of March. We upgraded shelters – 85 have been completed and we are working on an additional 64. We will complete all 172 public shelters so that they will be comfortable and protective, and they will provide security and be calming. It is very important to us that they will be calming.
Speaking of schools, we are building 13 new schools which will be state-of-the-art, not only in terms of shielding, but they will be what are referred to as smart schools, smart buildings. There is no other place in the State of Israel is which these things are being done, 13 new schools. We shielded schools with the “protected space” method – 18 in the entire region, and all have been completed. We funded and shielded 118 kindergarten roofs and another 51 kindergartens and new daycares. This is an immense scope. I do not think any other place in the world, any other place in which citizens live, in which shielding work has been implemented on such a tremendous scale, with such encompassing strength, with the end goal of providing every one of you with the feeling of security to which you are entitled.
As you know, at the Government meeting held last Sunday, I presented for approval a budgetary addendum of NIS 600 million, in addition to that already approved for 2009 in the amount of NIS 327 million. This additional NIS 600 million for shielding residences will be spread out over two years after 2009 in order to complete the shielding of residents’ houses in the Sderot area and the Gaza Envelope communities, as well as assist in shielding public institutions in this region, including Ashkelon.
I say these things not in order to praise the Government, but rather to tell you how much we are genuinely concerned and love you. However, I wish to say something more to you Dina, and through you to your students as well and to their parents, and to you Mayor David Buskila, and to you Amira, whose spirit inspires and who creates an atmosphere for all those who surround you. I wish to tell you, the thing that moved me the most of all the things I say here in this beautiful building which the Home Front Command, the Ministry of Defense, Victor, Matan and Ronny built for you – the most moving thing is the accomplishments of the students in Sderot. The most important thing is that whoever thought that the fear which lives in the heart and the sirens which warn against Qassam missiles and the red alert would deflect the students’ spirits from the task of successfully dealing with the challenges of education in Sderot and its environs was completely wrong. Whoever thought that it would break their spirits was completely wrong. Whoever thought that it would be in these places that we would not make the greatest achievements must realize that the complete opposite is true. I would like to say a few words to you about the future – I know these are things which must be said with great caution. We do not for one moment accept the existence of such a way of life here in which we must live entrenched in shelters in order to defend ourselves from our enemies.
I say to you with full responsibility that we know what must be done, but we also know when and how it must be done so that this threat is stopped, so that you will not have to live in fear of the sirens and alarms, and so that you will not have to run breathlessly to the protected spaces. We know what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and we will do so with wisdom, responsibility, determination and, if I may, with a courage which at times, unfortunately, I cannot tell you about. However, you may be certain that it exists among all the security branches related to this daily struggle.
Finally, if I may, I would like to say a few personal words of farewell. I am saying goodbye to you as Prime Minister, but I am not saying goodbye to you as a citizen of this country. Sderot and the Gaza Envelope communities will live on in my heart, and be close to my heart and soul forever, for you are an inseparable part of one of the bravest and boldest struggles waged by the State of Israel which fights against evil, wickedness and terror with exceptional courage. Thank you for all the moments of comfort you have given me during all those visits I made in secret to Sderot, which we did not want to nor could we publicize, but which took place; at all those warm and moving meetings attended by people who suffered and who had asked us to act, but who stayed here because we will never run away, not from our homes and not from our cities, and we will stand tall, strong and brave. We will not just defend ourselves, but rather we will attack and – once and for all – stop that which threatens our daily lives.
Thank you very much.