Ministry staff, MK oppose threat to D-G in Barzilai dispute

Kadima's Adatto asks Knesset Control C'tee to hold hearing on reports that Litzman plans to fire Hai-Am.

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March 15, 2010 05:00
4 minute read.
DELAYS IN building a reinforced emergency room for

barzilai hospital ashkelon 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Kadima MK Rachel Adatto has asked the chairman of the Knesset Control Committee to hold a hearing on reports that Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman intends to dismiss his director-general, Dr. Eitan Hai-Am, as well as the doctor’s own threats to resign.

The director-general, a former director of Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba, has voiced his opposition to Litzman’s position regarding the construction of a rocket- and missile-proof new emergency room at Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center, instead of the current facility, that was threatened by  rockets from Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.

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Litzman, of United Torah Judaism, insists that bones found on the site long planned for the new emergency room – determined by archeological experts to be of Christians from the Byzantine period – are “Jewish bones” that “can’t be moved” according to Halacha.

Instead, Litzman wants the emergency room to be built on a more distant parking lot, which will cost NIS 100 million more and take 18 months longer to plan and put up.

The cabinet was due to vote on the issue on Sunday, a week after the State Attorney’s Office told the High Court of Justice that the government supports Litzman’s opposition to moving the graves for Barzilai’s expansion.

However, the State Attorney’s Office conceded that choosing another site for the facility had disadvantages – the delay in construction and the significant extra cost.

But the vote was inexplicably postponed for at least a week. In the meantime, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (who is formally health minister), reached an agreement with Litzman and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz to protect the existing hospital with an “exterior envelope” that will add to the costs and temporarily offer some protection to the structure until the new emergency wing is completed.

An Israel Antiquities Authority study in 2008 of ancient remains found on the plot shows the bones are those of “Christians or pagans.”

Results of the two-month examination were released on Sunday, apparently to disprove claims by Litzman that they are Jewish remains.

The authority said that the site is comprised of “two burial systems,” including a central room with graves emanating in three directions. They have colored plaster and stucco, and the site was the victim of grave robbers, the authority added.

Along with human graves in one section, an animal skull – apparently belonging to a horse or donkey – was found. In the second section, text from the Middle Ages was found.

The authority added that the style of the Barzilai graves is similar to that of 70 other graves dug up in the Coastal Plain, including elsewhere in Ashkelon, and in none of them was any sign of a Jewish connection found. Some of these graves had frescoes, which “testify to those buried being pagans or Christians.”

The examination of the entire site at Barzilai needs another week to complete, the authority said, adding that one cannot determine the identity of the bones buried in the part of the site that has not yet been dug up.

Meanwhile, works committees representing 3,000 Health Ministry employees last week sent Hai-Am – who is sitting shiva following the death of his mother – a strong letter of support over the Barzilai issue.

“We learned that recently, you wanted to resign over differences of opinion with the deputy health minister on purely professional matters,” wrote the group, who included staffers in the main ministry office where Litzman works, district health offices, state hospitals, institutes and labs.

“In a short period, you learned in depth the complicated health system, its failures and complexities while creating a close relationship with the staff. We learned that you are a professional man of values, moral and fair, who is willing to sacrifice himself for his principles so as to ensure that the residents of Israel have a high level of health services,” the letter went.

They added that his door was always open and that Hai-Am was the “ray of light” that they had been waiting for.

The unions called on the director-general not to leave his post because of his dispute with Litzman and called on the deputy minister to “do all that is possible to find a solution to this crisis for the good of the whole system.”

Adatto, a physician and lawyer by profession, told The Jerusalem Post that Hai-Am is an very good administrator and that it would be a shame for Litzman to fire him over this issue.

The haredi papers have been full of reports recently claiming that the deputy minister wants to dismiss him regarding the Barzilai issue.

“Gush Katif was full of old graves, and the bones were all moved, and no haredi rabbis opposed it,” Adatto said. “They have allowed other skeletons to be moved as well. But suddenly, they make a fuss and want to delay the construction of this vital facility because of Byzantine bones, even though it could save lives.”

The Kadima MK said that the issue was “a matter of principle” for Hai-Am, who declined to comment. The Health Ministry spokeswoman also refused comment.


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