PM U-turns, approves Barzilai ER at original site

Litzman says despite announcement he has not changed his position against moving graves.

barzilai hospital ashkelon 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
barzilai hospital ashkelon 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In a dramatic about-face, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday reversed last month’s cabinet decision to relocate the Barzilai Medical Center’s planned fortified emergency department in Ashkelon due to the existence of ancient bones at the original site.
The Prime Minister’s Office released a statement saying that Netanyahu, who is also formally the country’s health minister, directed the Health Ministry’s professional staff to prepare for the construction of the emergency room at its original location.
The decision comes a day after the cabinet empowered Netanyahu to decide the issue.
The original decision to relocate the emergency room so ancient graves would not have to be disturbed, spearheaded by Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman (United Torah Judaism), created a public uproar for a number of reasons, including the cost involved and the additional time it would take to build the facility.
The Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu’s decision came following recommendations made by a professional committee empowered by the cabinet ruling last month to look into the matter and return with proposals within a month.
According to the statement, among the factors Netanyahu took into consideration when making the decision were the following:
• The original site is closer to the hospital
• The original site will allow for a fortified underground passage to be built from the facility to the hospital
• It will take less time to build because it already has all the necessary permits
• It will cost less
Litzman said Monday night that despite the announcement he had not changed his position against moving the graves. He added that in a few days he would convene a meeting of the United Torah Judaism faction to decide how to respond.
Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman congratulated Netanyahu on the decision and said he hoped work on the ER would begin immediately.
A member of the extreme haredi Atra Kadisha group told Radio Kol Chai on Monday that the organization would “fight until our last drop of blood.”
“What we did in our protests against Road 6 [which turned violent] is nothing compared to what we will do now in Ashkelon,” the Atra Kadisha activist said.
Meanwhile, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger on Monday leveled criticism at the haredi factors objecting the premier’s plan, during a joint visit with Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar to the Merhavya cemetery, where some 40 graves were desecrated last Thursday.
“It is a shame that the organizations involved in safeguarding thedignity of the dead, and threatening with demonstrations in the face ofplans to build an emergency room designated to save lives, didn’t comehere to protest the disgrace of the dead,” Metzger said.
Thechief Ashkenazi rabbi had recently refused to comment on the questionof relocating the graves located in the Barzilai complex.
Metzgeralso appealed to Muslim religious clerics to arrive at the Merhavyacemetery to protest the vandalism, as he did following the arsonattempt at the Yassin mosque.
Jonah Mandel, Gil Hoffman and Judy Siegel contributed to this report.