Ruling follows similar decision in case of navy divers.
By Eli Ashkenazi | Nov. 4, 2013

Haifa District Court Judge Ron Shapira rejected Sunday morning a suit filed by 50 fishermen against two companies that have polluted the Kishon estuary: Haifa Chemicals and Fertilizers & Chemicals.

The fishermen claimed that the Kishon River’s polluted water was the reason for various diseases from which they are suffering.

The court ruled that it could not find any causal connection between the fishermen’s illnesses and their exposure to the carcinogenic materials that had been poured into the river.

The verdict is very much like the one handed down by this same court four months ago when it rejected a similar suit brought by 70 navy divers who had served in the Israel Defense Forces and had dived in the Kishon River as part of their military service.

Regarding the fishermen’s claims, Judge Shapira wrote in his verdict that “it has become apparent that, in effect, some of this distinguished dispute did not warrant any verification, because the factual infrastructure on which the arguments [of the plaintiffs] were based as far as the scientific facts were concerned has been shown to be flimsy, to put it mildly.”

The court also ruled that “whereas the Kishon River’s water was polluted during certain periods by the flow of raw industrial sewage that included highly toxic materials, the plaintiffs failed to prove that their illnesses were caused as a result of their exposure to the Kishon River’s water, if they were in fact exposed to it and for any extended period of time.”

The fishermen, who had worked in the Kishon estuary for 30 years from the 1970s onwards, filed their suits between 2001 and 2005. They decided to sue the two companies in the wake of reports about the suits filed by the former soldiers and the work of the commission headed by former Supreme Court president Justice Meir Shamgar that investigated the connection between the Kishon River’s pollution and the navy divers’ health problems.

The second group of divers filed their suit in 2000 following the commission’s appointment in the wake of the struggle waged by the first group of navy divers. The Shamgar Commission was, however, unable to find any direct connection between the Kishon’s pollution and the divers’ illnesses. Nonetheless, the minority opinion of Justice (ret.) Shamgar did find a causal connection between the navy divers’ ailments and the materials that had been released into the river.

The basis of the fishermen’s claims was the epidemiological claim that the percentage of fishermen and workers in the Kishon estuary who had developed cancer was much higher than the percentage of cancer sufferers in the general population. However, the court ruled that “the illnesses [from which the plaintiffs suffer] have very different etiologies and very different characteristics … in addition, it has emerged in the course of the presentation of the evidence that many other people who worked in the fishing harbor of the Kishon did not contract the illnesses from which the plaintiffs suffer. Furthermore, the data that the plaintiffs have presented from the quantitative standpoint and which pertained to their exposure to the Kishon River’s water was far from the actual case, as has been proven.”

Shapira pointed out that it is possible that the way of life led by the fishermen (their exposure to the sun and diesel engine fumes, heavy smoking of cigarettes and consumption of alcohol) was the factor that caused a deterioration in their health. He noted that if the fishermen were to present their claims to the pertinent committees in the National Insurance Institute, they might find an attentive ear.