Israel’s prime minister decided not to relocate the site of a new protected emergency room in southern Israel despite the presence of ancient graves.
Benjamin Netanyahu announced the decision Monday, a day after Israel’s Cabinet gave him the authority to determine whether or not to relocate Barzilai Medical Center’s planned underground emergency room in Ashkelon, which is within range of Gaza’s rockets. The graves, which Israel antiquities experts have said are likely pagan, will be dug up and moved, Netanyahu announced.
The Cabinet last month had approved by one vote a plan to relocate the hospital’s planned ER to a site farther away because ancient graves were found on the site, and ultra-Orthodox, or haredim, opposed building the ER on an ancient gravesite. The Cabinet vote sparked a public outcry in Israel; the cost of moving the emergency room to the new site would have been an additional $42 million, according to estimates.
As a result of the outcry, Netanyahu appointed a task force to reevaluate the decision.
Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, a haredi lawmaker from the United Torah Judaism Party, initiated the ER’s site change after the discovery of the bones on the site set aside for the new emergency room. Experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority assured Litzman that the bones are pagan or Christian and may be moved, but Litzman says they are Jewish.