Decision to Move Ashkelon Hospital ER Spurs Wave of Criticism

Ultra-Orthodox community wanted ER, which is protected against rockets, moved after graveyard found on building site.

The director general of Israel's Health Ministry announced his resignation on Sunday, after the cabinet approved relocating the emergency room at Ashkelon's main hospital due to the finding of a graveyard beneath the site.

Dr. Eitan Chai-Am's show of dissent came after many others in the government criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to find a new location for the Barzilai Hospital's emergency room, which in its current design allows protection against rocket.

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 Deputy Health Minister Ya'akov 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 says 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.

An official at the Health Ministry criticized the government's decision, saying: "This is a black day when the government shows preference for the deceased rather than people living with illness."

"Residents of the South will suffer because of this decision and the Health Ministry is losing a reliable and valued director general," the official added.