15 haredim detained during Barzilai grave relocation
Bulldozers, tractors arrive at Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center around midnight in preparation for relocation of ancient graves to take place Sunday morning. Fifteen haredim detained by police following protest on site. Ashkelon police chief: We will carry out cabinet decision.
Shmulik Hadad • Ynet
After years of delays, capitulations, and a wave of public protest, the moment of truth has arrived. Under heavy security of hundreds of police, bulldozers, tractors and a container arrived Saturday night at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon to relocate ancient graves located on the site so that a new emergency room can be erected. Some 30 haredim from Jerusalem protested on the site, and 15 were detained by the police for investigation.
Dr. Yigal Israel of the Israel Antiquity Authority said to Ynet that work was done to clear out weeds in the surrounding areas in preparation for the digging that would be performed by 45 archeologists early Sunday morning. He noted, "Rabbi Amar and Rabbi Ovadia granted permission to move the graves."
On Friday night, horsemen and special crowd-dispersal police units were deployed around the hospital.
The police stressed that no measure would be spared and that the commanders were instructed to act as they see fit, including making arrests, in order to maintain public order.
Since the end of Shabbat, the police stopped a number of haredim who reached the hospital's approach road.
Ashkelon Police Superintendent Haim Blumenfeld said during a briefing, "We will take action to implement the cabinet decision to evacuate the graves. We have large forces deployed, and we have stationed ourselves at a number of posts and scenarios with the objective being to allow the Antiquities Authority to carry out its work alongside regular operations of the hospital itself. We are determined to address every scenario."
According to estimates, the evacuation work will take place over a number of days. The hospital hopes the work will be completed by the Shavuot holiday. The police will secure the scene for the duration in order to prevent any attempt to thwart its completion.
Barbed-wire fences placed around the hospital ahead of the evacuation. Israel Medical Association Chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman recently sent a letter to the police chief expressing his concern for the safety and wellbeing of the hospital staff and patients and for the smooth running o the hospital in light of disturbances sparked by opposition to the removal of the graves.
The building plan for the new emergency room was authorized more than a year and a half ago.
Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman, who opposed relocation of the graves, initially succeeded in getting an alternative plan to move the new emergency room to an alternate site for a massive sum of NIS 90 million (about $24 million).
Following a wide scale public protest on the issue, which included the resignation of the director general of the Health Ministry, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to implement the original plan.
Earlier, dozens of haredim protested and burned trash cans on Bar Ilan Street and Yehezkel Street in Jerusalem. The decision to relocate the graves evoked outrage among various elements in the Eda Haharedit, which expressed its vehement opposition to the move, claiming that the grave were of Jewish origin.
"This must be fought with devotion," said Rabbi David Shmidel, head of the haredi organization Atra Kadisha, last week.
Roi Idan and Shmulik Grossman contributed to this article.
Here is the Ha'aretz report:
15 arrested as Haredis protest Barzilai grave removal
Hundreds of police deployed as ultra-Orthodox demonstrator climb fences in attempt to halt construction work at burial site on grounds of Ashkelon hospital.
By Yair Ettinger, Yanir Yagna, Dan Even and Liel Kyzer • Ha'aretz
Fifteen were arrested in Ashkelon, while hundreds of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators blocked roads and set fire to garbage bins in Jerusalem late Saturday night to protest plans to relocate graves at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon.
Police tackled protesters who attempted to climb fences and stop work at the construction site in Askelon, where work began late in the evening, and are now girding for further unrest by ultra-Orthodox Jews across the country during the planned evacuation of human remains to make way for a bombproof emergency room at Barzilai.
Saturday night, the police deployed in force along key arteries in Jerusalem, including Bar Ilan Street and Route 1 leading into the capital, to prevent attempts to obstruct roads.
Earlier in the evening, a demonstration took place near the Satmar yeshiva in the Mea She'arim neighborhood, with participants calling for "the prevention of any possibility to desecrate the graves." In ultra-Orthodox districts, leaflets called for "the Land of Israel to go to war."
Members of the Israel Antiquities Authority are due to arrive at the site Sunday morning to begin work on the excavation that would remove human remains believed to be thousands of years old.
They will be protected by hundreds of police officers, including units specializing in riot dispersal, which began deploying late Saturday night. Meanwhile, Barzilai officials are on alert for possible attempts to injure the medical staff and disrupt their work.
Law enforcement officials said they will respond harshly to any attempts by protesters to disrupt the antiquity authority's excavations.
"The Haredim will not allow the relocation of the graves to occur quietly," said a senior police official. "While they did not succeed in preventing this evacuation, they will certainly do everything to deter a similar thing from occurring in the future."
Although the Ashkelon hospital has served as the flashpoint of the latest tensions, police in the south do not expect heavy rioting there. Nonetheless, police have fanned out in the south, with officers from around the country deploying in the area as backup.
Police say that due to the thin presence of the Eda Haredit, the extreme religious sect that has spearheaded violent demonstrations against the authorities, they do not expect serious clashes in Ashkelon. Senior figures of the Ger Hasidic dynasty in Ashdod told the authorities that they do not intend to take part in the unrest.
Security forces intend to ring-fence the hospital and guard the entrances to the city to prevent demonstrators from infiltrating the site. Sources say the ultra-Orthodox may try to reach Ashdod before dawn.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reversed an earlier government decision to move the emergency room - a costly venture. Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman had not wanted the wing moved for religious reasons.
After the cabinet approved Litzman's proposal, the ministry's director-general, Dr. Eitan Chai-Am, resigned in protest. Due to the heavy criticism by medical officials and the press, Netanyahu ordered a special task force headed by a top aide to investigate the matter.
After the prime minister determined that the remains should be relocated and the emergency room built on the site originally designated, Litzman did not resign. Barzilai officials said over the weekend that the hospital was quiet, and that staff members were anticipating a decision on the start of the bones' relocation by the antiquities authority. The relocation process, in which the remains will be handed over to the Religious Services Ministry, is expected to begin within the next few days.
The hospital also completed fencing work around the area expected to hold the emergency room.
"According to plans, the evacuation of the gravesites will continue for two to three days," said a hospital official. "This will enable the start of digging to put the foundation in place for the emergency room right after the Shavuot holiday."
According to the medical center's management, "The hospital is operating as per usual. The police are making contingency plans that will enable the full functioning of all the hospital's divisions during the evacuation of the gravesites."
Dr. Leonid Eidelman, the chairman of the Israeli Medical Association, visited Barzilai on Friday. "The bombproof emergency room is critical for the residents of the south, and we are hopeful that its construction will be completed quickly," he said.
Eidelman warned the police commissioner of the danger that Barzilai medical staff could be the targets of violent acts by protesters against the removal of the remains.
"The police have made it clear that they have acted with determination to prevent any possible harm to the hospital," the medical association said in a statement.
And the report from Walla:
Dozens of Ultra-Orthodox Demonstrate near Barzilai Hospital
Rami Shani and Ariel Noy • www.walla.co.il
Translation: Didi Remez • Coteret
Dozens of Haredim succeeded in entering the Barzilai Hospital compound last night, despite police road blocks placed at the city’s entrance aimed at thwarting their arrival. Haredim demonstrated in front of an Antiquities Authority team that was in the process of evacuating the graves. The demonstrators were then moved by police.
Earlier in the evening, with the arrival of bulldozers and other heavy equipment, works began for the evacuation of the graves in the compound designated for the new hospital ward. Ashkelon Police Chief Haim Blumfeld said that police were “prepared for all contingencies. We will arrest the demonstrators already upon their arrival to Ashkelon, and we will not allow them to set foot in the evacuation site.” […]
Last night Southern District Police brought in reinforcements to Ashkelon, due to concerns that extremists would attempt to disrupt the relocation of the graves taking place in the hospital compound. Demonstration dispersal equipment as well as special forces were brought into the city. Police expect several hundred Haredim to attempt to obstruct the operation; however, forces are prepared to tackle several thousand if necessary.
Meanwhile, a few dozen Haredim demonstrated in Jerusalem, in protest over the plan to move the graves. Rioters attempted to block the roads and prevent vehicles from passing through.
Deputy Hospital Director Dr. Ron Lobel said prior to the evacuation began that, “we have confidence in the police and hope that works to begin the construction of the emergency room will proceed without disturbances. The hospital’s medical staff is preparing to operate the hospital tomorrow on Sunday, which is usually our most crowded day. Dr. Lobel said at the time, that the Haredim had not yet arrived at the hospital compound, but believed that they were already on their way to Ashkelon. “We’re really hoping we’ll be able to run the hospital and that the police will protect us,” he said.
Police sources predicted that Haredim opposing the evacuation would not attempt to arrive in Ashkelon over the weekend. This was in spite of reports that such an occurrence was possible. Police intelligence units attempted to collect information about such groups, but as far as could be ascertained, this amounted to only a small number of people.
Those opposing the establishment of the emergency room in its originally designated location are not expected to receive much support from Ashkelon residents. City residents told Walla, “Ashkelon is not Jerusalem. A city task force has recently been working to ensure that activity to prevent the evacuation will be met with significant resistance by the inhabitants.”
Residents further said, “the Ashkelon hospital is the only medical center in the area, and it is therefore very important to accelerate the establishment of fortified emergency and hospitalization wards. This is true even taking the graves into account; it has not been proven that these are Jewish graves.”
Sources in the city also said that even if it became clear that these were Jewish graves, this would still not pose an obstacle for having them moved. That said, the nearby city of Ashdod has a large Haredi community and it is quite possible that they will attempt to assist demonstrators coming from Jerusalem.
Many voices coming from Jerusalem called on religious people to join the demonstrators and thwart the moving of the graves. Police are still attempting to prevent having demonstrators bussed to Ashkelon.