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Friday, August 20, 2004

"The Ringworm Children"

The kids were told they were being treated from ringworms. In reality, they were being given a dose of X-rays 35,000 times the allowed maximum. That happened in Israel in 1951 and was funded by the US government. The objective: to conduct an experiment in order to see the effects of X-ray radiation. Sensational? Definitely. But the film about this, as reported here by Israelinsider, has been shown on the Israeli TV and has already earned significant acclaim in that country.
"The Ringworm Children" (translated in Hebrew as "100,000 Rays"), directed by David Belhassen and Asher Hemias, recently won the prize for "best documentary" at the Haifa International film festival, and in the past year has made the rounds of Jewish and Israeli film festivals around the world.
The film shows the baselessness of any potential claims that highest-ranking Israeli officials at the time did not know about this experiment.
Every Sephardi child was to be given 35,000 times the maximum dose of x-rays through his head. For doing so, the American government paid the Israeli government 300 million Israeli liras a year. The entire Health budget was 60 million liras. The money paid by the Americans is equivalent to billions of dollars today.
David Deri, on film and then as a panel member, relates the frustration he encountered when trying to find his childhood medical records. "All I wanted to know was what they did to me. I wanted to know who authorized it. I wanted to trace the chain of command. But the Health Ministry told me my records were missing." Boaz Lev, the Health Ministry's spokesman chimes in: "Almost all the records were burned in a fire."

We are told that a US law in the late '40s put a stop to the human radiation experiments conducted on prisoners, the mentally feeble and the like. The American atomic program needed a new source of human lab rats and the Israeli government supplied it. Here was the government cabinet at the time of the ringworm atrocities:

Prime Minister - David Ben Gurion; Finance Minister - Eliezer Kaplan; Settlement Minister - Levi Eshkol; Foreign Minister - Moshe Sharrett; Health Minister - Yosef Burg;
Labor Minister - Golda Meir; Police Minister - Amos Ben Gurion.

The highest ranking non-cabinet post belonged to the Director General of the Defence Ministry, Shimon Peres.

That a program involving the equivalent of billions of dollars of American government funds should be unknown to the Prime Minister of cash-strapped Israel is ridiculous. Ben Gurion had to have been in on the horrors and undoubtedly chose his son to be Police Minister in case anyone interfered with them.
Sometimes Jews are viewed as a monolithic group. Many non-Jews believe that they always support each other, and that it is only against non-Jews that they ever discriminate. Clearly, such perception is not always correct. It appears clear from this documentary that only Sephardi Jewish children were selected for the experiment.
David Deri makes the point that only Sephardi children received the x-rays: "I was in class and the men came to take us on a tour. They asked our names. The Ashkenazi children were told to return to their seats. The dark children were put on the bus."
This atrocity is something Israel as a society must get to the bottom of. This is a difficult page in its history, but sweeping it under the rug is not the way to go.

And I am definitely adding this film to my "to see" list.


Anonymous said...

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