Opposition Wins First Battle to Build a New Hospital in Israeli Arab City

United Arab List chairman Mansour Abbas, who is in the coalition, opposed the bill, which seeks to correct the lack of hospital infrastructure in Israel's Arab towns and communities

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Ayman Odeh at the Knesset, today.
Ayman Odeh at the Knesset, today.Credit: Noam Moskowitz\Knesset spokesperson

A bill spearheaded by opposition lawmakers to establish a new hospital in the Arab city of Sakhnin passed a preliminary vote at the Knesset on Wednesday, in an embarrassment to the coalition. 

The bill passed with 51 voting in favor of the law and 50 against.

The proposal passed partly thanks to United Arab List MK Mazen Ghanaim, a resident of Sakhnin and member of the coalition. Lawmaker Iman Khatib-Yassin, a member of the same party, was scorned by Likud lawmakers who yelled "shame, shame" when she voted against the proposal.

When it was United Arab List chairman Mansour Abbas' turn to vote, he walked towards the Likud members' seats at the general assembly, stopped in front of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and declared that he will vote against the law. Alternate Knesset Speaker and Joint List lawmaker Ahmad Tibi reprimanded him for his decision.

Similar bills to build a hospital in Sakhnin have been proposed in the past by Arab and left-wing lawmakers, and recent meetings between ministers and Knesset members have focused on the matter. "Out of 33 official hospitals in the country, there is not one in an Arab city," Tibi said. "Today we are correcting this injustice."

The bill went up for a vote even though the state budget passed last week allocated funding for two new hospitals – one in the south and one in the north. However, the hospital in the north is slated to be built in the Jewish-majority town of Kiryat Ata. Joint List member Ayman Odeh noted that Sakhnin suffers from a lack of access to nearby hospitals despite being one of the larger towns in Israel's north, impacting local residents' health.

According to a report by the Taub Center, the average distance from a Jewish locality to the nearest hospital is 14 km, compared to 22 km from an average Arab locality to a hospital. According to the bill, "the city of Sakhnin is about 40 km from the nearest public hospital in the region."

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