Court: State Should Compensate Victims of Ringworm Radiation

The Tel Aviv District Court registrar Shmuel Baruch criticized the state in an interim ruling he handed down last month in a lawsuit by overseas residents seeking compensation for radiation treatment against scalp ringworm in 1950s Israel.

"I regret that instead of acceding to my request and trying to advance an agreement in this case, the state continues to display an annoying and superfluous formalistic toughness," the judge wrote. He added that "it is right and proper for the state to reconsider its position, with regard to the plaintiffs' entitlement to compensation, in accordance with the regulations in the law."

In 2004, S. and Z. sued the state for NIS 5.3 million (not including future damages) for damages they say they incurred as a result of radiation treatment for ringworm in the 1950s. The matter of ringworm victims was settled by a 1994 law, but the law excluded anyone who moved abroad in the intervening years.

According to the suit, S., 59, was subjected to radiation against ringworm in a French transit camp when she was 3 years old. Jewish Agency workers, so it was claimed, were performing medical examinations as part of the preparation for immigrating to Israel. M., 59, also claims she underwent radiation against ringworm in her youth, when she lived in Casablanca, Morocco. That treatment, too, was administered through officials working on the Jewish Agency's behalf to prepare emigrants for their arrival in Israel.

Both plaintiffs left Israel many years ago.

"The plaintiffs, like their parents, were completely unfamiliar with, and received no explanation of the nature and essence of the radiation treatments they were given," the suit states. It further claims that a very high level of radiation was used without previously ascertaining that the girls had ringworm. The prosecution detailed the resulting physical damage: S. has skin cancer, near-total baldness, scarring on her scalp, loss of teeth beginning in her late 20s and more. M. has been bald since her late 20s and has ugly scarring on her scalp.

In late 2005 the state and the Jewish Agency asked the Tel Aviv District Court to throw out the suit on the grounds of exceeding the statute of limitations. This lawsuit was previously rejected outright after the plaintiffs failed to respond to the state's request to have it thrown out. However, in October 2005 Judge Baruch retracted his decision and permitted the plaintiffs to submit their response.

"I think there is no way to determine the statute of limitations issue, certainly not at this stage," he wrote in the recent interim decision.

Baruch criticized the state and Jewish Agency for not submitting an affidavit, whereas the plaintiffs presented "a series of factual allegations, that have not been contradicted at the present time."

The registrar added: "I have trouble understanding why the state is insisting on not compensating the plaintiffs, when it does not refute their allegations regarding having been exposed to radiation, and is hiding behind formal arguments such as the statute of limitations." The judge hinted that it may be necessary to delete the regulation in the law excluding compensation for victims living overseas.