For several years, three navy commandos have been battling to be recognized as disabled veterans after they came down with Parkinson’s disease.
By Zafrir Rinat | Jun.06, 2012

The Defense Ministry has accepted three navy commandos’ claim of having taken ill in the line of duty after they developed Parkinson’s disease in the wake of numerous dives in the severely polluted Kishon River.

The decision resulted from a Defense Ministry committee of experts’ recent finding that a link could not be ruled out between navy commando unit operations in the Kishon and the Parkinson’s disease afflicting some commandos.

For several years, the three commandos have been battling the ministry in Haifa Magistrate’s Court after filing a suit against it to be recognized as disabled veterans after they came down with Parkinson’s disease.

Following the panel’s recommendation, the Haifa Magistrate’s Court approved an agreement between the appellants and the Defense Ministry in which the ministry would recognize Parkinson’s disease as an illness caused in the line of duty.

“I’m sorry that it took so many years,” said Dorit Elimelech Even, the commandos’ attorney. “This decision could have been made a long time ago, eased the commandos’ situation and prevented public funds from being spent on legal proceedings.”

The commandos’ case relied in part on the opinion of Prof. Yoram Finkelstein, head of the neurology and toxicology unit at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center. He stated that the commandos’ exposure to poisonous substances used to paint ships caused the Parkinson’s disease.

This substance contains heavy metals that could lead to the disease and might also seep into the brain. The court also ordered the Defense Ministry to pay the legal expenses for the preparation of Finkelstein’s opinion.

During legal proceedings, the Defense Ministry rehabilitation unit gathered a team of experts some two-and-a-half years ago to review the link between diving in the Kishon and neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s.

The team stated in a report released about three months ago that it is not possible to draw such a correlation in the case of illnesses such as stroke, vascular damage or a list of neurological impairments.

But regarding Parkinson’s, the team of experts stated that based on studies from around the world, there is a known link between exposure to industrial waste and development of the disease, even while there are other studies that reached opposite conclusions.

The team noted that the age when the disease appeared in the Kishon divers is much lower than the average age of Parkinson’s sufferers in Israel. This, the team said, suggests the possibility that exposure to toxic materials was involved.

The panel stated: “The existing knowledge in the field is insufficient to determine a scientific basis for a link between diving in the Kishon River and development of Parkinson’s disease, and the committee does not recommend recognizing such a link on a scientific-medical basis. However, despite the fact that no certain causal link was found, such a link cannot be completely ruled out, even if it there is just a small likelihood of one. Therefore, the committee recommends that the Defense Ministry consider recognizing Parkinson’s patients as casualties of Kishon dives, similar to the decision of the Shamgar Committee [which was appointed by the defense minister to investigate the Kishon dives] regarding various forms of cancer.”

However, the committee noted that this was not a sweeping recommendation and only applies in cases where the disease appeared at a young age relative to the average age of onset of Parkinson’s in Israel – 55 years old.