Netanyahu Visits Judean School on First Day

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited a school in biblical Judea (a.k.a., the West Bank) on Monday for the first day of school as children in southern Israel were subjected to a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip.

"Efrat and Gush Etzion are an integral, fundamental and evident part of greater Jerusalem," Netanyahu told students at the Aseh Chayil School in Efrat.

Gush Etzion, a bloc of 22 Jewish communities, is less than 15 miles from Jerusalem. Located along Highway 60 -- the same route the biblical patriarch Abraham would have traveled -- it's an area the Palestinian Authority wants as part of a future state.

"[Efrat and Gush Etzion] are the southern gates of Jerusalem and will always be part of the State of Israel," Netanyahu said. "We are building Efrat and Gush Etzion with enthusiasm, faith and responsibility; thus we are also building education."

More than two million Israeli children youth headed off for the first day of school on Monday -- the most Israeli children ever to start school -- up 2.8 percent from two years ago.

It could be considered impressive considering the country is just 64 years old and grew out of the ashes of the Holocaust when more than 1.2 million Jewish children were murdered.

Terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket at southern Israel as the first day of school was getting started. Israeli President Shimon Peres, who was visiting a fortified school in the south, said Israel was proud of the children.

"Facing the threat of rockets, you have shown steadfastness in learning, achievements and creativity," Peres was quoted as saying.

There are a few changes this year.  The school year never started before September 1. This year it started a week early to make up for holidays during the year. 

Pre-school is now also free for three- and four-year-olds. Most Israeli children attend pre-school from a very young age.

And the Education Ministry has instructed its teachers to put emphasis on the national anthem, symbols and the connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel.

Also this year, the children of African migrant workers and asylum seekers in the southern Israeli city of Eilat are attending Israeli schools.

Earlier Monday, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said the education system is "undergoing very deep changes related to the reforms" being undertaken for children on all age levels.

Sa'ar believes that if Israel continues to make improvements in investments and policy directions, Israel "will be among the leading countries of the world in terms of education systems" in 10-years' time.

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Julie Stahl

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