(photo credit: )
Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center has the funds to build an underground emergency room and surgical theater, but the project is being held back because of the opposition of haredi activists to the excavation and relocation of Byzantine era bones discovered on the hospital's campus.
Dr. Ron Lobel, the hospital's deputy director-general, says that Barzilai has the $40 million needed to carry out the project, which would protect the facility from rocket attacks, but since January has been unable to recommence work after a preliminary dig because of protests by haredi activists.
The Atra Kadisha organization, a haredi group dedicated to preserving Jewish grave sites, has in the past managed to suspend work at several construction sites.
Lobel says that pleas for help have been sent to the prime minister, other ministers, the chief rabbis and prominent haredi rabbis for months, but to no avail. "Approval to start construction must be granted immediately," he said.
Former storerooms are the only fortified areas available to the hospital,
whose campus was hit not long ago by a Grad rocket that fell outdoors. However only a few dozen patients can be protected in them. The government-owned hospital needs more underground facilities for 50 beds, an operating theater, sterile supplies and other uses that would not be disrupted in an emergency.
It took years to complete the plans and building tender, and obtain the funding for the project - 25 percent of which came from the Health Ministry, with the remainder from donations (mostly from abroad), Lobel told The Jerusalem Post.
If the hospital is forced to move the location, he said, it would take two more years to begin the plans from scratch and complete them.
"There is no solution without moving the skeletons," he insists, saying the threat posed by rocket fire from Gaza is real and constant. "This is a matter of life and death," he added, "not of giving honor to bones."
During previous emergencies, the hospital sent home as many patients as it could to make room for possible wounded in attacks on the Western Negev.