Ashkelon Hospital ER Will Not Be Relocated, Netanyahu Rules

Would be Jewish graves found on the designated site to be dug up and relocated to build new ER.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that the new emergency room at Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center would not be relocated due to the finding of an ancient burial ground in the designated location, Channel 2 news reported.

Following Sunday's move to receive the cabinets' approval to become the final authority regarding the controversial decision, Netanyahu said that the graves would be dug up and moved, and the ER would be built in the allocated spot.

Last month the cabinet approved relocating the intended ER location at Ashkelon's main hospital due to the finding of a thought to be Jewish burial ground beneath the site.

Following a last minute move Sunday to add the request to the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu, who is also the official health minister, received the cabinet's approval to make the final decision, thus excluding Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) from the decision making process.

Many government officials criticized Netanyahu's previous decision to find a new location for the Barzilai Hospital's emergency room, which in its current design allows protection against rockets, and Dr. Eitan Chai-Am, director general of Israel's Health Ministry, announced his resignation over the planned relocation.

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 ER room is estimated at NIS 160 million.

The graveyard was discovered when Litzman attempted to add a new wing to the hospital located in Ashkelon. Once the gravesite was found at the original construction site, the Antiquities Authority confirmed the graves belonged to Jews, and put the project on indefinite hold.

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

Earlier, a State Control Committee called on the cabinet to revoke its decision to relocate the planned bomb-proof emergency room and called on State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss to look into the affair's various aspects and supervise the building.

The committee was also told by Health Ministry ombudsman Aryeh Paz that he recently gave the State Comptroller documents apparently linking Litzman's stand on the graves to his involvement in the tender to build a hospital in Ashdod. The planned Ashdod hospital would compete with Barzilai for patients in the south.

"The cabinet did not make the right decision," committee chair MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) said at the end of the meeting. "The decision was tainted with irrelevant considerations that were not in the public's interest."