Dr. Eitan Hai-Am, who recently resigned from his post as Health Ministry director-general over the cabinet's controversial decision to relocate the emergency room at Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center because of ancient graves found on the site, said the task force appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to review the issue is not professional enough.
"I have a problem with the inquiry commission. If we want good results then a medical professional must sit on the committee," Hai-Am told a meeting of the Knesset's State Control Committee on Wednesday.
Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman said during the committee's meeting, "You've been discussing graves for the past two hours. Patients will die as a result of this decision and you are talking about (graves)."
"Building an emergency room far from the hospital's main building means killing patients. You do not realize that," he said.
Meanwhile, around 70 doctors were holding a demonstration outside the Knesset in protest against the government's decision.
The doctors warned that the moving of the ward to a new location, as demanded by the haredim, "may end up costing us lives".
Amid the public outcry that followed the cabinet's decision to relocate the ER, due to the fact that revising the plans would cost an extra NIS 136 million (about $36 million), delay the project for two years and put the facility too far from the hospital’s main building, Netanyahu instructed his director-general, Eyal Gabai, to head a task force that would reassess the cabinet's decision.
The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that the new task force "will determine, together with all the relevant authorities, the possibility of erecting the secure emergency room at Barzilai Hospital in a way in which lives will not be endangered. The task force’s conclusions will be presented immediately after Pesach. Until then there will not be any work done on the facility.”
The committee members toured the site Wednesday morning along with Shuka Dorfman, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority and an aide to Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism). Litzman threatened to resign unless the planned emergency room is relocated.
Dorfman told the committee that he cannot rule out the possibility that there are Jewish graves at the site designated for the new emergency room. "The fact that there was no Jewish community in Ashkelon does not mean that there were no Jews there at all. We cannot reach a decision until we dig in the entire site," he said.
Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin, whol also attended the Knesset meeting, told those on hand, "I personally witnessed how the distance between the different hospital wards resulted in the loss of life.
"Building the ER at a different location will take at least three years, during which more lives will be lost," he said.
Knesset Member Arieh Eldad (National Union), a physician by training, said "a situation has been created in which a few bones are worth 130 million shekels," adding "Jews know how to transfer Jewish graves from place to place, not to mention bones of Philistines."
Roni Sofer contributed to the report