IDF Admits to High Cancer Rate at Nahal's Tel Arad Base

An unusually high incidence of lymphoma, or cancer of the lymph nodes, has emerged among soldiers who served at the Nahal Brigade's base in Tel Arad, the Israel Defense Forces' chief medical officer told the Knesset's Internal Affairs Committee yesterday.

The Health Ministry confirmed this finding.

The committee's special recess meeting was called in response to an investigative report on the subject by Channel 2 television. After hearing the official confirmations, the panel urged the IDF to evacuate the base immediately. It also urged Health Minister Yacov Ben Yizri to set up a governmental inquiry committee to investigate the matter.

Brig. Gen. Nachman Ash, the IDF's chief medical officer, told the panel that 12 current or former Nahal soldiers came down with Hodgkin's disease, a form of lymphoma, between 1994 and 2004, compared to five paratroopers and four soldiers in the Golani Brigade. Altogether, 58 Nahal soldiers developed some form of cancer in those years, compared to 47 paratroopers and 43 Golani soldiers.

The rates in the Golani and Paratroops brigades, Ash continued, are roughly the same as rates for the general population. The Nahal rate, however, is markedly higher.

Dr. Micha Bar-Hanna, director of the Health Ministry's cancer records department, concurred.

"There is an excessively high incidence of cancer at Arad under whatever system we use to measure it," he said. "However, the Health Ministry has no information about either the type of cancer or the reasons for the disease."

Nir Dagan, whose brother Itzik served in the Nahal Brigade and died of cancer in 2001, attacked the law that requires soldiers to be discharged as soon as they are found to be sick. "No one takes care of them," he said. "How can it be that on Memorial Day, they called my brother - a minute after he fell sick - to discharge him?"