Cancer victims protest at Israel's nuclear plant
DIMONA, Israel, May 8 2001
Arye Spieler survived the Nazis and every Israeli war. Now he is fighting cancer and for the state to recognise that he became sick by working for nearly 30 years at Israel's top secret Dimona nuclear plant.
Demonstrating with about 30 other employees on Tuesday, Spieler said he and nearly 100 other workers contracted cancer because they handled radioactive chemicals in the secluded site where it has been reported that Israel builds atomic weapons.
The plant's management rejects the premise that working with carcinogens at the reactor caused the cancer, meaning workers and widows cannot receive social security compensation.
'This war makes me sad because I gave my life loyally to this place, which I really respect,' said the 67-year-old man, pointing across the road at the reactor's silver dome rising from the sand dunes of the Negev Desert.
'I am proud that I worked there loyally and it upsets me that we are not recognised as victims,' said Spieler.
The demonstrators included widows and children of people who have already died of cancer. Of the 50 people represented at Tuesday's demonstration, 31 have died. Dozens of others who are sick did not participate in the protest, demonstrators said.
The prime minister's office, responsible for comment on the reactor, was not immediately available to respond to the protesters' accusations.
Environmental scientists have linked radioactivity to cancer worldwide, noting increased risks of kidney and lung cancer and leukaemia.
'People were urinating uranium and uranium was coming out of their noses,' said Gal Fahima, 29, whose 49-year-old father died of bone cancer in 1992, four months after being diagnosed.
'My mother is a widow, we are orphans, the loss is permanent,'' Fahima said of himself and his sister and brother. ''I have been fighting for 10 years.'
Fahima said he is angry because when administrators who never came into contact with radioactive or carcinogenic materials developed skin cancer -- an illness he said is not directly connected to such materials -- they were compensated.
'The level of loyalty of these people is unbelievable,' Fahima said, adding that they refuse to say what type of work they did or divulge any other information considered top secret.
The facility came under a world spotlight in 1986 when Dimona nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu told Britain's Sunday Times newspaper that the site was an atomic bomb factory.
Lured from Britain to Italy by a female Israeli agent, Vanunu was kidnapped and brought back to Israel, where he is serving a life sentence for treason and espionage.
Israel has never confirmed it has nuclear capabilities.
Yehuda Kalifa, 67, said the director-general of the Defence Ministry ordered the files re-opened and examined after meeting on Monday with the cancer victims.
'It is not the first time such orders are given and we have been here for 11 years,' said Kalifa, who had a lymph node removed to overcome his second bout with the disease.
'It was a serious meeting and they came to listen. They gave it three months and we will wait three months and hope they do something,' Kalifa said.