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Knesset Members Stage Hunger Strike to Demand End to Hospital Crisis

Ten Knesset members representing opposition parties on the left and right began a hunger strike Sunday for government action to end Israel’s prolonged health care crisis.

Squatting outside the Prime Minister’s Office while the Cabinet was in session, they said they would subsist on water and fruit jurces during the week ahead.

They took their mattresses to the Knesset corridors for the night, but were back on the Cabinet floor of the building Monday morning.

Premier Yitzhak Shamir stopped briefly to talk to the hunger strikers as he entered and left his office during the day. He promised to have the health crisis “in hand” soon.

Earlier, Shamir refused to convene an emergency meeting of the ministerial health committee, because of “other pressing affairs,” presumably those of his Herut party, which is putting the final touches on its 1988 election slate.

The hunger strike brought arch political rivals together for a common purpose. It was initiated by Yair Tsaban and Chaike Grossman, veterans of the leftist Mapam party.

They were promptly joined by two other left-wingers, Shulamit Aloni and Yossi Sarid of the Citzens Rights Movement, as well as Geula Cohen of the militant nationalist Tehiya party and Avraham Verdiger of the ultra-Orthodox Morasha party.

Doctors who are striking government and Kupat Holim hospitals assured the demonstrators they would look after their health needs during the week-long fast.

A BATTLE OF WILLS OVER WAGES

The health care crisis has become a battle of wills between the Treasury and the medical and non-medical employees of state-run and Kupat Holim hospitals. Kupat Holim is Histadrut’s health care agency, the largest of several health insurance systems to which the majority of Israelis belong.

The issues are wage-related, and Finance Minister Moshe Nissim is adamantly opposed to salary increases for publicly employed medical personnel.

His and Shamir’s initial reaction to the hunger strike was that public demonstrations are no way to find solutions.

But the ministerial health committee, set up at the beginning of last month to alleviate the crisis, has accomplished nothing to date.

It consists of Shamir and Nissim of Likud and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Health Minister Shoshana Arbeli-Almoslino, both Laborites. From its inception, the panel has been split on party lines.

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