New Plan Suggests Building Ashkelon Hospital ER Underground

MK Eitan Gafni proposes plan to avoid uprooting Jewish graves thought to be under current ER, which PM decided won't be relocated.

The director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Eyal Gabai, announced Thursday that he was considering a plan to build a new emergency room at Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center underground, instead of rebuilding it in its current location.

Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center
Ilan Asayag

Two months ago a graveyard was discovered under the site on which the ER is built. Once the grave site was found at the original construction site, the Antiquities Authority confirmed the graves belonged to Jews, and put the planned project on indefinite hold.

Following the discovery, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to relocate the ER and was severely criticized by many government officials and medical personnel. Some critics accused Netanyahu of acquiescing to pressure from the ultra-Orthodox community, which was adamant about not building over the graveyard. The cost of moving the building site of the emergency room is estimated at NIS 160 million.

Dr. Eitan Chai-Am, director general of Israel's Health Ministry, announced his resignation over the planned relocation.

The outcry over the planned relocation prompted Netanyahu to retract his original decision to relocate, and the emergency room was set to be rebuilt at its current location.

However, MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) has recently promoted a new idea to rebuild the controversial ER underneath the alleged ancient Jewish graves.

According to a rabbi with the Zaka emergency service organization, Gafni's suggestion is "serious." Several Rabbis reviewed Gafni's plan and presented Gabai of the Prime Minister's Office with architectural blueprints for the underground ER, prepared for them by an architect. They said that the plan was beneficial as it would circumvent the uprooting of Jewish graves.

Zaka's rabbi, along with rabbi Arie Dvir, said that the plan to build the emergency room underground would be cheaper than building an above ground emergency room and reinforcing it against rocket attacks – as the original plan dictates.

The Prime Minister's Office said in response that they have reviewed the plan and will announce a decision within the coming days.

The graveyard was discovered when deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman attempted to add a new wing to the hospital.

The Finance Ministry said the high cost of moving the building site would be funded either with money designated for reinforcing other hospital departments against rockets, or by siphoning money from various other government offices.