Following a torrent of criticism over the decision to change the location of the planned reinforced emergency department for Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu instructed Prime Minister's Office Director-General Eyal Gabai to head a team that will examine the various options for construction of the emergency department, so that "no lives will be endangered."
According to the PMO announcement, Netanyahu asked the director-general to submit the team's recommendations immediately after the Passover holiday, and said that until they are presented, no action will be taken on this issue.
Tempers continued to rage on Monday, 24 hours after the cabinet approved Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman’s proposal to build the emergency department on a different site because ancient bones were found at the originally planned site.
Revising the plans will mean the additional expenditure of NIS 136 million, a delay of two years, a longer distance from the main building and exposing patients and staffers to the risk of terrorist rockets and missiles from Gaza.
Litzman insists the exact same decision to relocate the emergency department was approved by the Olmert government, only to be scuttled by opposition from the Barzilai administration. There was no public outrage at that time, particularly by Kadima MKs, he said, intimating that the reaction centers around the fact an ultra-Orthodox is at the helm of the Health Ministry.
After consultation with United Torah Judaism's high Halachic authority, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Litzman reaffirms the bones may be Jewish and thus cannot be moved. But the chief rabbis and others have insisted that many bones, including those in Gush Katif, have been moved before without haredi opposition, especially for life-and-death matters and even when not of critical importance. The Israel Antiquities Authority declared that based on evidence it found at the gravesite, the bones are of pagans or early Christians.
All the Ashkelon state hospital chiefs, including workers' representatives, meeting after the decision, said they would block the bulldozers on the new site with their bodies to protest against it. "Together we will overcome it," they said on Monday. Staffers said that if cabinet ministers lived in Ashkelon, which is constantly targeted by terrorists, "they would have voted differently." The hospital suffers from very high occupancy rates around the year, especially during the winter.
MK Carmel Shama called on Knesset Labor, Social Affairs and Health
Committee chairman MK Haim Katz to convene an urgent session during the
spring break to discuss the matter, which resulted in the resignation
by Health Ministry Director-General Dr. Amitai Ha-Am, who claimed the
move would "endanger lives." Shama said many of his parliamentary
colleagues are furious over the decision, which passed in the cabinet
by a slim majority of 12 to 11.
Dr. Ya’acov Ziv-Ner, head of Israel’s government hospital doctors’
union, said that a reinforced emergency department will not be ready
for another four years due to the need for replanning and construction;
it was approved on the old site four years ago, and until recently, the
Treasury was unwilling to complement a private donation from an
American foundation that possibly could be withdrawn due to the delays.
The new site is 400 meters away from surgical theaters and other vital
facilities and would require the building of long underground
passageways to link them.