North Africa, West Asia

Thick walls and bullet proof windows

The whole structure is designed to look like any other building both outside and inside.The goal was to give the client a sense of security without giving them the feeling that they were in a bunker.

Efraim Perlmutter
1 November 2013

The other day I accompanied some visitors from New York State on a tour of the Eshkol Region where I live. Among the sites we visited was the new Resilience Center. Though it is up and running it is still partially under construction. "Resilience Center" is the closest English term which we could come up with for "Merkaz Hossen" which is its Hebrew name. "Hossen" is the kind of inner strength one derives from being part of a group or community. The task of the Resilience Center is to provide immediate and long term treatment to those residents of the area suffering from traumatic stress due to the cross border violence that we experience from time to time.

The new center differs from the old one in that it is more centrally located and its structure has been built to withstand a direct hit by a rocket or mortar fire. The former center was struck by a rocket and suffered extensive structural damage. This not only limited its operation during a time when it was most needed but residents visiting the center were presented with a visible reminder of the source of their stress, which did not help their treatment. Within a short time the damage was repaired but it was decided that a new, better protected center was needed, hence the new structure. The roof and walls are made of very thick reinforced concrete and the windows are built to provide protection against shrapnel and bullets. The whole structure is designed to look like any other building both outside and inside. The goal was to give the client a sense of security without giving them the feeling that they were in a bunker.

This was not the first building so designed and constructed in our area. The local secondary school was rebuilt from the ground up in a similar fashion. Walking around the ten building school campus one can see here and there the concrete entrance ways to underground shelters. But these were installed mainly to provide protection for students and teachers who are more than ten seconds away from one of the buildings when an alarm is sounded. The buildings themselves provide the main protection and were built to withstand a direct rocket and mortar strike. 

A bit of history is in order here. Before the current campus was built, there were two secondary schools in our area; one for the kibbutzim (collective settlements) and one for the moshavim (cooperative villages). For about thirty-five years there had been attempts to unify the two schools, each with less than 500 students. The biggest opponents to integrating the two schools were the more extreme left wing kibbutzim who saw such integration as a threat to the propagation of their more purely socialist ideology. In fact about fifteen years ago the kibbutzim had two secondary schools and their integration into one school was accompanied by quite a bit of hot debate between the more left wing and less left wing kibbutzim. Combining the kibbutz and moshav schools was seen by its opponents as an ideological disaster. Never-the-less when Hamas in Gaza began firing rockets and mortar shells at our region it was decided to reinforce the structures of the two schools. However, cost estimates put such reinforcement at about three times the amount of building one new fully protected school. The government in Jerusalem refused to supply the money for the two-school option so at a meeting of the area council general assembly with some of the representatives smiling and others grimacing, it was unanimously decided to build one new school for the whole area. Before the school was completed and put into operation and the educational advantages were clear to everyone, I proposed that we send a letter of thanks to Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza, for accomplishing the integration of our school system; something the local residents had been unable to do for more than four decades. No one took the proposal seriously.

Concrete has a lot of uses. In our new school it is used to protect the students and teachers from hostile actions. Last week a concrete lined tunnel that led back to Gaza was uncovered near one of the kibbutzim. There was an estimated five hundred tons of concrete lining the tunnel's walls and supporting its roof. Though its exact purpose is open to debate there is no doubt on the part of anyone living in this area that it was built to bring harm to the local residents or those in the IDF protecting us. It was the third tunnel discovered recently and there are probably more out there. The State of Israel was highly criticized by various humanitarian NGOs for limiting the supply of concrete to the Gaza strip to those building projects supervised by the UN or other reputable international organizations. As a consequence sometime last year the government decided to free up the supply of concrete to the general Gaza economy. As far as I can tell there has been no criticism of Hamas for using the concrete for military purposes as exemplified by the tunnel. Right after the tunnel was found, Israel re-imposed the restriction on the supply of concrete limiting it to UN or other supervised construction.  

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