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Tree Stalls Construction of Ashkelon Hospital Wing

Remember the controversy of the emergency room at Ashkelon’s Barzilai Hospital? It was a saga of politics, war and religion that just a few months ago looked as if it could destabilize Israel’s government.

In 2008 engineers started preparing the ground for a new $120 million wing. It would have an underground bunker with wards for 300 patients and a large rocket-proof emergency room — important as the hospital serves the Israeli communities closest to the Gaza border. But then the constructors struck a piece of history, an ancient cemetery, and arguing it was too sacred to disturb, Israel’s Haredi community tried everything it could to stop building: public campaigns, protests and strong pressure inside government from the United Torah Judaism party. It ultimately failed, but managed to delay construction for two years.

Digging resumed a few weeks ago, but has now stopped again. Not because of renewed campaigning or a government u-turn, but because of…. a tree. Builders discovered an old sycamore tree and downed their tools while the relevant nature authorities are consulted. Even if the authorities give the go-ahead to move it, it’s unclear that the green lobby will agree. So after a drawn-out confrontation with Haredi activists over its new wing, it seems that Barzilai could now have a new fight on its hands with environmental activists.

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