barzilai hospital ashkelon 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Members of the Eda Haredit Badatz (Court of Justice) convened on Tuesday evening for an emergency meeting in Jerusalem following Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Monday reversal of the cabinet decision to relocate the planned construction of a fortified emergency department at Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center due to the presence of ancient bones at the original site.
The meeting was also attended by Rabbi David Shmidel, head of the haredi organization Atra Kadisha, which deals with safeguarding Jewish graves. Shmidel reiterated to the participants his group’s stance on the graves, which deems them as possibly Jewish. After hearing Shmidel, members of the Badatz decided that the graves mustn’t be moved, and signed a proclamation calling upon the public to protest the planned relocation of the graves. A demonstration is to take place in Ashkelon next week.
Earlier on Tuesday, Shmidel reiterated his group’s stance to The Jerusalem Post
, saying that since there was a chance some of the graves belonged to Jews, it was prohibited by Halacha to relocate them. He also noted that Atra Kadisha had proposed an alternative site for the construction, which would be pricier but would also enable more beds for the hospital.
Although an Antiquities Authority announcement determined that the graves were “unequivocally pagan,” Shmidel pointed out that some of the wording in the announcement was ambiguous. He stressed that some of the archeological evidence upon which the statement was based did not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the graves were solely pagan.
The formation of the Barzilai graves was consistent with Jewish burial practices, but was not unique to them, Shmidel added, further alleging that the Antiquities Authority had changed its initial assessment on the graves’ identities. This is “a battle between truth and lies,” Shmidel said.
The Antiquities Authority’s spokeswoman told the Post on Tuesday that the authority’s evaluation had always been that the graves were pagan. At the same time, she stressed that it was impossible to rule out the possibility that a Jewish bone could be found at the site.
In addition, the spokeswoman noted that the dig at Barzilai had been stopped two years ago upon uncovering the pagan graves. Further digs at other parts of the site, she said, could theoretically uncover Jewish bones.
Members of UTJ, meanwhile, were cautious not to declare a split from the coalition following Netanyahu’s decision.
Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman (UTJ) said on Tuesday that he was not dealing with the Ashkelon graves, but with the reform in dental care he has been promoting.
MK Meir Porush, also from UTJ, told Israel Radio that nobody had said his party would leave the coalition.
The faction will be meeting in the next few days to decide how to respond to the development, apparently only after faction chairman Menahem Eliezer Moses returns from Poland, where he is currently part of a Knesset delegation.
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