Interior Ministry Staff in Upper Nazareth Striking After Cancer Becomes Oddly Common in Office

Workers compelled to strike because Finance Ministry is refusing to move them to another building.

Interior Ministry staffers in Upper Nazareth went on strike on Monday, claiming that a third of the office's 64 workers have gotten cancer over the last 10 years due to a powerful antenna situated nearby.

Monday's strike was only partial, with workers showing up for work but refusing to receive the public or answer phone calls. As of Tuesday, however, the staff will be on all-out strike.

Interior Ministry - Tess Scheflan - September 2009
Tess Scheflan

Danny Karaklis, head of the local union chapter, said workers were compelled to strike because the Finance Ministry is refusing to move them to another building, as agreed by both the Interior Ministry's management and the employees.

"For the last six years, we've been fighting to get them to transfer us to another building that would prevent the workers from getting sick," Karaklis said. "Meanwhile, about 30 percent of the office's staffers have gotten cancer" - 20 of the 64 workers.

The move, he added, would cost only NIS 1.5 million, but the treasury refuses to approve it.

Rachel Peretz, who has worked at the office for 18 years, has been through chemotherapy for her cancer and seems to be in remission. "But everyone who has cancer lives in constant fear of the disease returning," she said. "And for me, the fear is even greater. Every morning I see that antenna looming over me and am afraid of what might happen to me."

Karaklis noted that the Israel Lands Administration moved its workers out of the building 12 years ago. But the Interior Ministry staff are still stuck there.

The workers acknowledge that tests done by inspectors from the Soreq Nuclear Research Center found no signs of dangerous radiation, but they remain convinced that the antenna is making them sick. "Reality trumps everything else," said one. "Such a high incidence of sickness isn't normal."

As well as the antenna, the workers say the building doesn't meet ordinary construction standards: It is over 40 years old, isn't wheelchair-accessible, has no bomb shelter, isn't reinforced against earthquakes, and it lacks a safety certificate from the fire service.

The Finance Ministry said in response that the Government Housing Administration and the Interior Ministry are in the "advanced stages of locating alternative housing" for the office. But while the treasury and the Interior Ministry had originally agreed on a budget to cover the move, "the Interior Ministry chose to back out of this agreement, so the issue is now on its desk. If the Interior Ministry wishes, it can allocate funds to promote the move in accordance with its own order of priorities."

The Interior Ministry said it has been working with the Government Housing Administration to find a new building, and with the treasury to locate additional funds to cover the costs of the move. It hopes the necessary funds will be found soon.

The Health Ministry said the union sent it a list of all the workers who had developed cancer, and while the number of workers with some kind of cancer seemed unusually high, the list showed no unusual incidence of the types of cancer usually associated with radiation.

The ministry said it has asked the union for more data in an effort to figure out what might be causing the problem, or whether perhaps the figures have been skewed by the omission of some cancer-free employees who worked there during the relevant period but have since left.