Question of Palestine home
29 August 1983
Item 34 of the provisional agenda*
THE SITUATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Letter dated 25 August 1983 from the Permanent Representative of Israel
to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General
At the 2457th meeting of the Security Council, on 28 July 1983, the Permanent Representative of Jordan referred to what he called "cases of mass poisoning which mysteriously occurred among schoolgirls in the West Bank last February . .." (S/PV.2457, p. 16).
At the same meeting of the Security Council, the Permanent Representative of Democratic Yemen, addressing the same issue, stated that "students in cities of the West Bank have been poisoned" (S/PV.2457, p. 28).
As Your Excellency will recall, towards the end of March 1983, a series of false reports and accusations began to circulate concerning an outbreak of headaches, dizziness and nausea among female high school students in various localities in Judea and Samaria. The Israel medical authorities, who immediately instituted an inquiry into the matter, could not establish the existence of any organic cause.
This fact notwithstanding, various Arab governments and media, as well as Arab representatives to the United Nations, used this occasion to mount a renewed attack in their relentless campaign of vilification against Israel.
Thus, the representative of Iraq, in his capacity as Chairman of the Arab Group for the month of March, in a letter to the President of the Security Council dated 29 March 1983 (S/15660), stated that "Israeli terrorism has reached the point of the implementation of schemes for the collective poisoning of students and inhabitants".
Not content with this misstatement of the facts, the representative of Iraq, in a further letter dated 31 March 1983 (S/15673), asserted that "these poisoning cases were not coincidental. They were caused by a yellow substance containing sulphur concentrates which emitted poisonous gases with dangerous physical and psychological consequences as well as other possible consequences."
Similarly, the representative of Jordan in his letter to the President of the Security Council dated 29 March 1983 (S/15659) referred to "collective poisoning to which more than 1,000 Palestinian schoolgirls were exposed".
The Permanent Representative of the Syrian Arab Republic, speaking in the Security Council on 29 March 1983, in the debate on the situation in Nicaragua, compounded the above-mentioned allegations when he told the Council that Israel "exercises genocide against the Arabs . . . and even poisons their schoolchildren . . . Poisonous gases are used on Arab schools in the West Bank . . . What is the use of murdering and poisoning our schoolchildren? ..." (S/PV.2426, pp. 38-40).
The representative of Senegal, as Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestine People, saw fit to follow suit, and in a letter addressed to Your Excellency dated 30 March 1983 (A/38/128-S/15667) alluded to the "reported illness among Arab schoolgirls . . . Local residents believe the illness to have been induced by some kind of poison, perhaps even gas poisoning".
Against this background of ongoing false allegations, I sent a letter to the President of the Security Council on 3 April 1983 (S/15674), in which I stated that the Israel medical authorities were undertaking a comprehensive examination of the causes of the above-mentioned symptoms. I also emphasized that the Israel Ministry of Health had decided to request an independent assessment of the causes of the above-mentioned phenomenon, to be undertaken by international health authorities, and that Israel had approached the International Committee of the Red Cross in this regard.
I also pointed out in the same letter that, reporting on that orqanization's findings on 3 April 1983, Dr. Franz Altherr, representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross, had stated that it was his impression that there was no indication of the existence of poisonous agents. It was Dr. Altherr's feeling that this was a mass phenomenon without any organic basis.
In the same letter, I also informed the President of the Security Council that, in further efforts to obtain impartial and internationally-recognized medical opinion, Israel had approached the United States Center for Disease Control, at Atlanta, Georgia, and the World Health Orqanization and that experts of both bodies were then due to arrive in Israel.
Even before the arrival in Israel of the representatives of the World Health Orqanization and the Center for Disease Control, the Security Council authorized its President to issue a statement dated 4 April 1983 (S/15680) expressing the Council's "great concern" regarding "cases of mass poisoning in the occupied Arab territory of the West Bank as referred to in document S/15673", and requested Your Excellency "to conduct independent inquiries concerning the causes and effects of the serious problem of the reported cases of poisoning ...".
At the end of April 1983, the Atlanta Center for Disease Control published the results of their investigations, asserting, in summary, that "this epidemic of acute illness was induced by anxiety . . . Its subsequent spread was mediated by psychogenic factors. Newspaper and radio reports may have contributed to this spread. The epidemic ended after West Dank schools were closed . . . we observed no evidence of reproductive impairment in affected patients."
On 10 May 1983, Your Excellency transmitted to the Security Council the "Report by the Director-General of the World Health Organization on a health emergency of an ill-defined nature on the west Bank” (S/15756, annex), stating,
, that “the WHO inquiry has not been able to indicate any specific cause or causes of this ill-defined health emergency". In regard to the clinical findings submitted by the Israel health authorities to WHO, that organization's report stated that it "found no reason whatsoever to challenge the findings reported to it".
These findings of the various medical authorities are fully corroborated by the conclusions reached in the medical literature on similar phenomena in other countries which, incidentally, did not merit any correspondence on the part of various permanent representatives, let alone consideration by, and a statement on behalf of, the Security Council.
In this connection, I have the honour to draw Your Excellency's attention to an article entitled "An Epidemic of Overbreathing among Schoolgirls" by Peter D. Moss and Colin P. McEvedy, published on 26 November 1966 in the
British Medical Journal
for that year, volume 2, pp. 1295-1300.
I should also like to draw your attention to an article by Gary W. Small and Jonathan F. Torus entitled "Outbreak of Illness in a School Chorus", published on 17 March 1983 in
The New England Journal of Medicine
for that year, pp. 632-635.
In the light of the great concern displayed by the Security Council last April regarding the phenomenon in question, it was to he expected that the Council would see fit to take note of the fact that the allegations against Israel proved to be without foundation, even though, given the prevailing constellation in the United Nations, it was not to be expected that the Council would go so far as to redress the wrong done to Israel. Similarly, while it was perhaps too much to expect that Arab representatives would want to apologize for having levelled wild and completely unfounded charges of "poisoning" against my country, one would have expected that, at the very least, they would have the decency to refrain from repeating those accusations.
I therefore note with regret the Security Council's total silence on the matter since the publication of the above-mentioned reports. Likewise, the silence observed now on this matter by some of the permanent representatives who irresponsibly and shamelessly hurled their unfounded charges against Israel and, even more so, the repetition at this stage of those charges by other representatives, fully attest to the moral and intellectual standards of the representatives concerned, as well as to their inability or unwillingness to come to terms with reality.
I have the honour to request that this letter be circulated as a document of the General Assembly, under item 34 of the provisional agenda, and of the Security Council.
(Signed) Yehuda Z. BLUM
Permanent Representative of Israel
to the United Nations