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Plan to establish field hospital in western Ukraine approved by Israeli cabinet

Project is named after former PM Golda Meir, who founded Foreign Ministry aid program and has become symbol of hope for Ukrainians

In this handout image from the Health Ministry published March 5, 2022, an example field hospital is seen. Israel is sending a delegation to Ukraine to set up a  field hospital in the country. (Courtesy/Sheba Medical Center, Health Ministry)
In this handout image from the Health Ministry published March 5, 2022, an example field hospital is seen. Israel is sending a delegation to Ukraine to set up a field hospital in the country. (Courtesy/Sheba Medical Center, Health Ministry)

Cabinet ministers on Monday approved plans for an Israeli field hospital to be established in war-torn Ukraine in the coming days.

The hospital — under a project dubbed Shining Star — is slated to operate in western Ukraine for fleeing refugees for one month, a government statement said.

Budgeted at NIS 21 million, the funds are to come from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Health Ministry and Foreign Ministry, as well as the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

The facility will be operated by Sheba Medical Center, Clalit Health Services, and medical staff from other hospitals, according to the Health Ministry.

The hospital will include wards for children and adults, an emergency room, a delivery room, and a primary care clinic.

Representatives from the Foreign Ministry will also join the delegation.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz clarified last week that the hospital will be managed and manned exclusively by civilians.

The project (Kochav Meir in Hebrew) is named after former prime minister Golda Meir, who was born in Ukraine and was the founder of the Foreign Ministry’s MASHAV aid program, which is leading the field hospital project.

Kyiv-born Meir has become a symbol of hope for Ukrainians amid Russia’s invasion.

A Ukrainian officer shows off a biography of Golda Meir that he carries into battle with him. (Screen capture: Twitter)

“I can officially say here today that we are establishing a field hospital for injured Ukrainians that will operate there, on the ground. This is important and I am pleased that we — the Health Ministry and the Foreign Ministry, with the assistance of the Finance Ministry — are leading it,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said during the weekly cabinet meeting.

Israel already sent a 100-ton humanitarian aid package to Ukraine, which Russia invaded on February 24 in a military campaign that has since met with fierce resistance.

The aid included medical equipment, medication, water purifiers, tents, blankets, sleeping bags, with additional aid to be provided in the coming weeks, the Foreign Ministry said.

Also during Monday’s meeting, Bennett said Israel was managing its response to Russia’s war on Ukraine with “sensitivity and responsibility,” pushing back against criticism over the fact that Jerusalem has failed to take stronger action against Moscow over the invasion of its neighbor.

“We are managing this complex crisis with sensitivity and responsibility, and are making an effort to offer assistance however we can,” Bennett said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on March 14, 2022. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL via Flash90)

In the wake of the Russian invasion, Western countries applied crushing sanctions on Russia. However, Israel has mostly avoided joining the sanctions, seeking to take on the role of mediator between Russia and Ukraine, as it has good relations with both countries.

Ukrainian officials, meanwhile, have also criticized Israel for not providing it with defensive equipment. There has also been mounting criticism of the government’s refugee policy, from both within and outside the government, particularly regarding caps on the numbers of refugees not eligible for citizenship to be allowed into Israel, as well as their treatment.

“We are currently preparing to absorb [immigrants] and those included under the Law of Return, with the entire package that the state needs to provide: an absorption basket, housing assistance, education, and especially a big hug,” Bennett said, referring to a special government aid package for new immigrants.

Ukraine has about 43,300 people who self-identify as Jews and about 200,000 people eligible to immigrate to Israel under its Law of Return for Jews and their relatives, according to a 2020 demographic study of European Jewry.

New immigrants fleeing the war in Ukraine arrive at Ben Gurion Airport on March 9, 2022 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“At the same time, we, as a people and a society, will offer humanitarian assistance to Ukrainian nationals who are here temporarily, for a few weeks or months, until the situation there calms down. I see that there are many families who will be hosting in the coming period and this is very important,” Bennett added.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, the No. 2 in Bennett’s Yamina party, announced Sunday that people who are fleeing Ukraine who have relatives in Israel will be exempt from a 25,000-person entry cap placed on refugees who are not eligible for Israeli citizenship.

Bennett has so far refused to condemn Russia by name, though Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has, including on Monday when he vowed to ensure that the country’s financial institutions do not enable the circumvention of sanctions imposed on Russia.

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