JERUSALEM, Nov. 27 (JTA) — On a quiet street in Ramat Beit Shemesh, a middle-class suburb located halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, David Niazov, 22, patrols the perimeters of five kindergartens. From 7:15 in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon, Niazov, who has worked in security since completing his army service two years ago, stands outside the 5-foot fences surrounding each kindergarten yard, scanning cars and people for anything or anyone suspicious. It’s a big job, given that there are nearly 500 children in this cluster of five schools within a two-block vicinity. According to the priorities set by the Israeli government, only schools with more than 100 students, or schools set in clusters, will be guarded by security personnel this year. But now, nearly three months into the school year, only 70 percent of the schools designated to be guarded actually have security personnel in place, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel. Although that figure is up from 50 percent placement in early October, the municipalities are still having problems recruiting trained guards, according to the Jewish Agency. All guards are expected to be in place by the end of December. The issue has come to the fore in the midst of an Israel Emergency Campaign launched by the United Jewish Communities, which targeted school security as one of its main priorities. Working in conjunction with the government and the Jewish Agency, one of UJC’s overseas partners, $20 million was initially targeted for school security. The figure was based on the government’s estimation that it would take that amount to pay for 1,500 new officers to patrol kindergartens and schools with small populations. In early September, after school had already started, the government cut its estimate to $8 million for 865 guards. In its deliberations regarding security for Israel’s schools, the government — with advice from the Finance Ministry, the Ministry of Internal Security, the Ministry of Education and the police — took into account several factors, including the school’s location and the number of students, officials said. The current thinking, according to the police and Israeli security apparatus, is that kindergartens and schools located in clusters or complexes are at a greater risk because of the larger number of children. Neither the government nor the Jewish Agency would reveal how many schools remain unguarded, calling it classified information. Every school is legally required to have a fence with a lock, as stipulated by the Education Ministry. But not every school needs a guard, according to the government. “We said in the beginning that we need to balance between stationary and mobile security,” said Shai Weiner, an adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office. The government’s decision to place security guards at schools with more than 100 students leaves some kindergartens, particularly the small day care centers based in out-of-the-way yards and buildings, unprotected. On a corner lot in Pisgat Ze’ev, a neighborhood that is part of greater Jerusalem but is located over the Green Line dividing Israel proper from the West Bank, there is a gated day care center overlooking the nearby Arab village of Hizma on the other side of the valley, but no security guard. “We weren’t given one,” Shoshi, the harried-looking teacher said as she matched the 13 children at the center with their knapsacks, before lining them up in front of the locked gate. At the Ramat Beit Shemesh kindergarten, where there is a guard, the parents at this complex in Ramat Beit Shemesh already began last summer to talk about raising the money themselves to pay for security. Given the location of Ramat Beit Shemesh, just off a main road that connects to the Palestinian territories, the hill feels “exposed and dangerous,” said Ariella Edry, whose son, Lior, is in the same kindergarten. Having the guard “calms us, even though we’re still suspicious.” Now, Edry said, the parents are talking about raising the money to pay for an additional guard. She appreciates the UJC and Jewish Agency effort to pay for guards, but doesn’t think it is solely their responsibility. At the same time, the other half of her son’s kindergarten cluster includes two ultra-Orthodox kindergartens, where most parents wouldn’t be able to afford to pay for an additional security guard, she said. “We would have to figure that out,” she said. And at least one parent wondered whether one guard really makes a difference. “Where is he now?” Daniel Rachline asked as he dropped off his daughter Noa, 3, and looked around for the guard. “How can he guard four or five schools at the same time?” he said “He can barely tell what’s happening at one kindergarten.” Part of the issue with placing a security guard at each and every school — or at cafes, stores and movie theaters — is that it creates a kind of false assurance, security officials have said. People become accustomed to having a guard, and won’t go to places where there isn’t a guard, they said. This creates a questionable precedent, considering that it may not be physically or financially possible for the government to sustain the cost of placing guards at every school for an indefinite period of time. For now, the government does not plan to expand security at schools, said Weiner. “We have a solution that answers the priorities,” he said. “We can’t have a guard on each kid. To my knowledge, there is full coordination and the system is working well.” As for the UJC, the organization’s American and Israeli officials say they will continue to take the government’s advice on security matters. “When it comes to analyzing the security needs of schools, we’re not going to second guess the government,” UJC’s Hoffman said. If the government does decide to expand security in the school system in the future, Hoffman said, the UJC would be willing to consider further funding for that purpose.
Still looking for school guards