Contested gravesite at Ashkelon hospital may have belonged to pagans
By Haaretz Service
The ancient gravesite at the center of ongoing tensions between the Haredi community and the Health Ministry may have belonged to pagans, as opposed to Jews, according to new findings by the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The burial site was discovered when Health Minister Yaakov Litzman attempted to add a new wing to Barzilai Medical Center 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.
New information gathered by the Antiquities Authority now reveals that the graves belonged to pagan worshippers. The Authority has asked to be given an additional week to conclude the excavations at the contested site. Finance Ministry officials said a relocation of the new wing would cost at least NIS 160 million, and would be funded either with money designated for reinforcing other hospital departments or by siphoning money from various other government offices.
The construction of a reinforced wing at the hospital has been delayed for over two years, after the Antiquities Authority discovered an ancient cemetery at the building site.
Over the past few months, Barzilai has asked for the construction to be re-launched, having received permission from the Chief Rabbinate to relocate the graves. Litzman, however, rejected the initiative, instructing instead that the hospital wing itself be relocated to a site currently occupied by a parking lot, far from the main medical center. Litzman's proposal is significantly more expensive than that supported by the hospital.
In February, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his staff decided to adopt the position of his predecessor Ehud Olmert and have the project relocated, as Litzman wished.
In response, the Finance Ministry froze funding for the reinforcement of all hospitals - some NIS 450 million, partly from government coffers and partly from private donations. The move was intended to give Litzman and the Finance Ministry an opportunity to agree on the source of funding for the relocation of Barzilai's new wing.