The state will pay 21 million shekels ($6 million) into a trust for hundreds of soldiers in a settlement announced Sunday in the so-called "anthrax experiment case."
The Defense and Justice ministries issued a joint statement announcing the settlement of the case, which was brought by 92 former soldiers who in 2010 filed a class action suit against the Defense Ministry. The settlement stipulates that the 92 plaintiffs will each receive compensation of NIS 27,000 ($7,750) plus NIS 36,000 ($10,330) in legal fees, while a 21 million shekel fund will be set up to cover potential medical expenses' claims by hundreds more soldiers.
According to the statement, the settlement saved all parties "years of legal proceedings," and it "addressed the individual needs of each and every volunteer in the experiment."
In 2008, it was discovered that 800 soldiers in some of the Israel Defense Forces' elite units had been part of a secret experiment held between 1998 and 2006 which aimed to develop a vaccine against anthrax disease, a life-threatening infectious disease that affects the skin, lungs and bowels.
The experiment, code-name "Omer 2," was developed following a Defense Ministry assessment 15 years ago that Israel might face the threat of bioterrorism.
As part of the experiment, the soldiers received injections of a vaccine developed by the Israel Institute for Biological Research -- a governmental research institute that specializes in the fields of biology, medicinal chemistry and environmental sciences. The research and the experiment that followed sought to develop a vaccine for the general public.
In the months and years that followed, many of the soldiers who participated in the clinical trial began suffering from serious side effects, such as skin lesions and tumors, severe pneumonia, migraines, bronchitis, epilepsy and other chronic conditions.
Arguing before the Central District Court in Petach Tikva, the state noted that the objective of the experiment had been achieved and that should Israel ever face an anthrax threat, the vaccine developed thanks to the soldiers who volunteered for the experiment would be used to protect both Israel's security forces and the public.
The state acknowledged that "the success of Omer 2 was clouded by serious concerns expressed by many of the volunteers, who felt that the State of Israel and the defense establishment did with them as they wished and then abandoned them. The special circumstances of this case have prompted the Defense Ministry to ensure all of the volunteers are compensated."
Attorney Baruch Brizel, who represented the Defense Ministry, said Sunday that "the ministry was concerned with the bigger picture, which goes beyond the scope and dimensions of the case, as it is the state's duty to care for all of its citizens and soldiers equally."
Attorney Boaz Ben-Zur, who represented the plaintiffs throughout the six-year process, said that the settlement "addresses the long-term concerns expressed by those who participated in the experiment."
Hagai Alon, whose sister participated in the clinical trial, told Israel Hayom, "We would like to thank the court for making sure that the settlement met the two most important goals -- medical care and recognition [by the state]."
Yotam Deutsch, 34, one of the soldiers affected by the experiment, was serving in the Paratroopers' Brigade in 1999 when he was recruited for the clinical trial.
"I was in the middle of a paramedics' training course when I was recruited for the experiment along with some of the other guys. The experiment itself included seven injections, but I quit it after four shots. It wasn't for me," he said.
Several years later, he developed acute abdominal ulcers.
"I suffered for months," he said. "At first I didn’t think it had anything to do with the experiment, but later I met some people [who participated in the trial] and after swapping stories I realized what I was suffering from were side effects. We also felt like the defense establishment cynically used us and then refused to accept responsibility."
Commenting on the settlement, Deutsch said, "It feels good. This type of compensation means that someone decided to own up to their responsibility, even if only between the lines. It was never about the money -- we just wanted the Defense Ministry to accept responsibility."
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anthrax, which is caused by a bacterium, can be found naturally in soil and commonly affects domestic and wild animals around the world. There are effective vaccines against anthrax and it can be treated by antibiotics.