Schools in Sderot will resume operations on March 3, the Education Ministry announced on Monday, a week after the southern city’s mayor joined his local counterparts in a protest demanding official confirmation from the government that residents who were evacuated from their homes due to the war in Gaza can safely go home.
The city of approximately 30,000 has been largely evacuated for over four months, due to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, with residents living in hotels or other temporary conditions elsewhere in the country, mostly in Eilat.
The decision was made in conjunction with the Sderot municipality and with the approval of the Home Front Command, the ministry said in a statement. Residents who do not wish to return can remain outside the city until July with state support, the statement added.
For families who have already returned to the city, some kindergartens and classes for 1st- to 3rd-graders will begin operation on February 18, and limited special education and youth programming was set to begin on February 20.
The education systems set up for evacuated Sderot residents in other areas will be shut down on February 19, the notice said, explaining that staff resources were not sufficient to cover the operation of two systems simultaneously.
However, Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi said in the Monday statement that solutions would be found for residents who were not yet ready to return “on a case-by-case basis.”
Some 350 “pop-up schools” have been created around the country in response to the unprecedented displacement of some 200,000 citizens from their homes as a result of the war in Gaza, sparked by Hamas’s October 7 massacres in southern Israel.
The schools serve evacuees from the communities bordering the Gaza Strip and along the northern Lebanon border, including the cities of Sderot and Kiryat Shmona. The evacuees have been scattered to various locations throughout the country, mostly staying in hotels and kibbutzim, and largely have remained intact as communities.
Last week, a group of mayors from Gaza-adjacent communities, including Davidi, camped overnight outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, demanding that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant issue statements and provide written confirmation that it was safe for residents who were evacuated from their homes due to the war to go back.
“We will continue to demand from the government and the army total security and the return of a sense of security to the city… It was important for us to allow residents to choose when they wish to return to the city, without force, and to open educational frameworks for them,” Davidi said in a separate statement issued Monday, after the decision to open schools in Sderot was announced.
Hebrew media outlets had previously reported that the southern mayors were pressuring the government to extend the deadline from May to July.
War erupted on October 7 when some 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists burst through the border with Gaza and rampaged through southern communities, slaughtering 1,200 people, and kidnapping over 250 people, mostly civilians. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 360 people were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists.
Israel responded with an air, sea, and land offensive to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza and release the hostages.
Southern communities, in particular those close to the Gaza border, have for years suffered rocket attacks from Gaza. The shock October 7 Hamas invasion also came under cover of a barrage of thousands of rockets fired across Israel. Rocket fire has continued sporadically ever since, with southern communities most often targeted.
“We will no longer be Israel’s line of defense, after the abandonment, the massacre, and the heavy bereavement. This is the right of every citizen in the country — security,” Davidi told the Walla news outlet after the protest last week.
The Times of Israel reported in January that the government was preparing to complete the resettling of nearly all of the communities it has evacuated from the Gaza border area by September, with homes that are situated 4-7 kilometers (2.5-4.3 miles) from the border beginning to return in the second half of February.
A source involved in planning the resettlement strategy said that a handful of communities that were particularly hard-hit in Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, including Nir Oz and Kfar Aza, would take up to two years to be rebuilt and resettled.