JERUSALEM (Feb. 1)
Signs of food poisoning in five Dutch children who fell ill after eating Jaffa oranges indicated today that Palestinian terrorists are carrying out their recent threats to hit Israel’s economy by sabotaging the products it exports. According to reports from Holland, the youngsters were victims of small quantities of mercury injected into the citrus fruit from Israel. All are recovering.
A spokesman for The Netherlands Health Ministry said the terrorists apparently “meant business” when they made their threats in letters to 18 European countries where Israeli produce is sold. An announcement by the Palestine Liberation Organization in Frankfurt, West German touched off a panic. The German Ministry of Health has banned the sale of Israeli citrus products pending an investigation of several complaints from various parts of the country.
One of Holland’s largest supermarket chains announced that all Jaffa oranges would be sent to laboratories for inspection before they are put on the shelves. The five children, from the towns of Harlem and Maastricht, were hospitalized and their stomachs were pumped. The poisonous material was sent to a laboratory for analysis. Dutch police said 14 poisoned oranges were found in a batch of 220 in two nylon bags. They contained non-lethal doses of mercury which could be fatal in larger quantities.
One of the PLO letters received in Holland reportedly said that the oranges were poisoned by “oppressed Palestinian workers” employed as citrus pickers in Israel. It said the intention was “not to kill innocent people” but “to damage the Israeli economy which is based on oppression, racial segregation and colonial occupation.”
A spokesman for Israel’s Citrus Marketing Board denied that the oranges had been poisoned in Israel. He said if that were the case they would have rotted before reaching Europe. He said the mercury was apparently injected into the fruit in Holland. But it was learned that several buyers of the Jaffa oranges returned them after noticing tiny puncture marks in the skin of the fruit. The Israeli Embassy in Holland and the Citrus Marketing Board are cooperating with the Dutch authorities in the case.
Israeli citrus exporters said today they are convinced that Israeli security authorities will find a way to deal with the terrorist challenge to Israel’s agricultural exports just as they were able to deal with earlier terrorist rampages. Meanwhile, it was reported today in Amsterdam that the Health Ministry received a letter from the “Arab Revolutionary Army-Palestinian Command” claiming credit for the mercury injection action.