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The only hard fact that emerged from the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee session on Tuesday was the disclosure by the Health Ministry that there is a higher death rate from cancer in Arad than elsewhere in the country.
The ministry, however, has yet to determine the cause, Micha Bar- Hana, head of the ministry's cancer registry, told the committee.
Committee Chairman Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) convened the special session to discuss the Channel 2 disclosure that there were a suspiciously high number of cancer cases among Nahal combat soldiers between 1994 and 2004, compared with the general population.
Chief Medical Officer Brig.-Gen. Nachman Ash told the committee that from 1994 to the present, 17 Nahal soldiers had contracted the disease, as opposed to seven in the Golani Brigade and seven in the Paratroopers Brigade.
The suspicion is that the increased instances of cancer are linked to the unit's training base, just outside Arad.
Parents of Nahal soldiers who came to the session said they had nothing against the army - "we have given them our dearest of all" - but that they wanted information, not rumors.
The parents of Itzik Dagan, who served in the Nahal's elite reconaissance unit for two years in the late 1990s when he contracted leukemia and then passed away a year later, said they had brought the troubling data to the army years ago. They demanded that all of the army's data be given to experts to examine.
An investigative team is scheduled to present its findings at the beginning of February. In the meantime, both the Health Ministry and the Environmental Protection Ministry representatives told the MKs that they did not yet have enough information to draw any conclusions.
Paz-Pines said he would recommend to the health and justice ministers that they propose to the cabinet the creation of a government committee of inquiry to look into the matter.
Arad Mayor Gideon Bar-Lev protested that the increased cancer rate in his city could result from a number of factors, none of which were connected to the Nahal base.
"A lot of people work at the petrochemical factories, and the nuclear reactor at Dimona. The elderly population of Arad is twice that of other cities as well," he said.
Bar-Lev also insisted that local factories did not pump untreated waste water into the sewage system. However, Israel Union for Environmental Defense (IUED) head Tzipi Iser Itzik challenged him, saying many irregularities had been found at the Arad waste treatment facility.
The IUED and parents of Nahal soldiers petitioned the High Court of Justice last week to order the army to move the Nahal training base. The court gave the army and the state a month to reply.
Elihu Richter, a former Hebrew University professor and environmental health expert, gave his expert opinion that "you don't need to wait for the body count to take action."
He noted that eight years had passed until this episode came to light, the same amount of time that had elapsed between the Kishon River episode and the public revelation that Navy frogmen training in the polluted river had gotten ill at a far higher rate than the general populace.
Paz-Pines concurred and said there was no reason that the base shouldn't be moved, even before the results of any investigations. It was noted during the meeting that the base is essentially a series of tents and no great effort would be required to relocate it.
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