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Before the commission was appointed, Amsterdam city authorities reviewed hundreds of medical complaints but found no conclusive link with the crash except, “perhaps, in a few individual cases.” Yet the rumors persisted.
Oudkerk revealed on the television show that he had come “under political pressure” in his capacity with the commission. He said a minister from his Dutch Labor Party visited his home one night to “pressure” him into “considering the political implications” for the cabinet under then-Prime Minister Wim Kok of Labor.
“Politicians never have handled the probe,” said Oudkerk, who did not specify in which way he had been pressured to act or whether he complied. Meijer acknowledged that political intrigue was present around the probe, but nonetheless said its members “peeled off the conspiracy theories one by one.”
Yet one of the sessions in 1999 seems to have had the opposite effect.
In that session, a lawmaker for the left-leaning D66 party read out, with some dramatic flare, transcriptions of calls made by the El Al office in the Netherlands after the crash. In the calls, it emerged that explosives and poisonous gases were aboard the plane.
Omitted from the text was the fact that the military cargo listed had been offloaded from the plane at Schiphol Airport before it took off again to Israel. It created the impression that the dangerous materials exploded on the ground in the crash.
“We all knew the explosives had been offloaded, but that session gave the opposite impression,” said Theo van den Doel, a commission member and lawmaker for the center-right VVD Party. His requests that the commission issue a correction were overruled, and within hours Dutch media labeled LY 1862 an arms shipment – an impression that would be corrected only weeks later in the commission’s final report.
Freight documents showed the flight was carrying 42 gallons of chemicals that could be used as precursors for making Sarin nerve gas, among other applications. But the commission found these chemicals presented no special health risks in the crash. Nevertheless, their presence was highlighted in Dutch and international media, thus linking the crash to chemical warfare.
The commission’s findings failed to convince Sonya van Zoest, 64, who was at home cooking lasagna when the airplane crashed just outside her apartment in Amsterdam’s Bijlmer neighborhood.
“No one ever properly explained the weird sicknesses that happened here,” she told JTA at the 20th memorial ceremony on Oct. 4 at the site of the crash. “No one called the Dutch government, El Al and Boeing to account for their lies and deceit.”
Among the crash’s victims was van Zoest’s close friend, Marcella Sagan-Marin. Van Zoest identified what was left of her friend’s body – a torso – two days after the crash.
If other residents of the poor immigrant Bijlmer neighborhood share her bitterness, it did not show at the ceremony, which the Israeli Embassy helped organize and at which an El Al representative placed a wreath on the monument for the victims.
David Buma, a cousin of one of the victims, seemed lost in thought as the Dutch-Israeli singer Iris Tzur performed the melancholic Hebrew-language song “Zachiti Le’ehov” (“I was Blessed to have Loved.”)
“I’ve heard about 40 conspiracy theories about what happened,” said Buma, who like many of the bereaved was born in the former Dutch colony of Suriname. “I have not seen facts to support these stories.” He said it may be a way for people “to better cope with the loss.”
His life was saved because he left his apartment house just minutes before the crash to greet relatives at the nearby subway station. From there he saw the plane slam into the building.