Grave discovery halts work on hospital's emergency center

Ancient graves discovered at the building site of Ashkelon medical center's 200-bed underground facility.

Hospital 88,248 GENERIC good image (photo credit: )
Hospital 88,248 GENERIC good image
(photo credit: )
Construction on a 200-bed underground emergency facility at Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center, which began in March and was speeding ahead amid concerns over a resumption of violence from the Gaza Strip, has ground to a halt after the discovery of ancient graves at the building site. The hospital is now negotiating with the Religious Services and Health ministries over how to proceed, Barzilai's deputy director, Emile Hay, told The Jerusalem Post. If the ministries give their approval, the Antiquities Authority will survey the area and determine whether construction can resume. If so, the graves will be exhumed. If not, the hospital will have to find a new site for its underground center. "Gaza is like a bomb that can explode anytime," Hay said. "We want to finish [the underground facility] as soon as we can." The graves date from the Byzantine era, according to Antiquities Authority spokesperson Yoli Shwartz. "In light of past excavation around Barzilai and the general Ashkelon area, the graves are most likely either of Christian or pagan inhabitants," said Dr. Haim Goldfus, senior lecturer of archaeology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Ashkelon was the heart of Christian and pagan life in the Byzantine era, and it is unlikely that the graves are Jewish, he added. Information gathered from cemeteries is very important for the study of ancient cultures and archaeological science, said Zeev Herzog, a professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University. He added that he wished access to such sites were more readily available. Hay stressed that the aim of the emergency center was to save lives, which ought to take precedence over the fate of the graves. Lamenting that the work was being held up by the discovery, he added: "But that is the situation here in Israel. We are stuck." After a rocket landed within a few hundred meters of Barzilai in February, the hospital was forced to evacuate patients to its bomb shelters. The emergency center is designed to enable better patient care in such difficult conditions, and is planned to be fortified and protected against gas attack. Meanwhile, since the cease-fire with Hamas took hold in mid-June, the hospital has been fortifying its windows against a resumption of attacks.