Friday, September 4, 2009

The Swedish canard – not only smoke, but also fire

By: Shraga Elam

25 August 2009


The controversy over the racist Swedish article on the trade in organs of Palestinians should not obscure the fact that the slovenly report has a scandalous basis in fact, which calls for a serious discussion.

It is not an exceptional occurrence that "canards" provoke discussions and processes that are important in and of themselves, and have influence that well-researched serious articles are unable to reach or their authors can even dream of.

For example: generations of serious Swiss historical researchers tried but did not succeed in a meaningful way to compel the Swiss public to come to terms with their country's very problematic ties to Nazi Germany and the profit that accrued to all of Switzerland as a result of those ties. It was none other than an Israeli journalist by the name of Itamar Levin, later senior editor of Globes, who succeeded in changing the situation when he incorrectly interpreted a 1946 Swiss memorandum written in German that he had found in a file on the property of the victims of the Nazis in the Central Zionist Archive. Itamar decided that it this was an official document in which the Swiss government allegedly admitted that the property of victims of the Holocaust that was being kept in Swiss banks amounted to 300 million Swiss Francs, which in the values of 1995, when Globes published the, was 6.4 billion US dollars. My warnings that his interpretation was not correct did not interest the journalist, who did not let the facts confuse him or get in the way of the scoop of his life. His article received headlines all over the world, incited a campaign against the Swiss banks and also brought about a rewriting of Swiss history, and even a prize or two for the author of that journalistic "achievement".

Today too, there is no doubt that the Swedish journalist did not work in a serious way and his newspaper did not exhibit the professionalism and the sensitivity required for such a problematical subject. There can be no educated European who does not know of the blood-libel and the various conspiracy theories against Jews. It is therefore necessary to strictly adhere to the precautionary principle and not to present a jumble of facts and half-truths that are not clearly and/or necessarily linked to each other.

Behind the purely associative link made between a network of Israeli organ merchants that was exposed recently and the fact that in 1992 bodies of Palestinians were returned with organs missing is the profound conviction that all Jews are strongly linked by bonds of mutual solidarity. Such linkage made up in the feverish brain of the Swedish journalist should at most have been the starting point for research; certainly they were not sufficient basis for a published article. Any serious editor would have sent him back to do his homework.

Having said all that, it is impossible to ignore the fact that at the root of the story there is definitely a serious problem, and it is no coincidence that the former Israeli ambassador to Germany, Avi Primor, speaking on the current events TV show "London and Kirschenbaum" on Sunday [23 August 2009], called for an investigation into the subject.

There is ample evidence that trade in organs has been done in Israel, at least for the purposes of research and teaching. That was clearly revealed by the affair of Prof. Yehudah Hiss of the pathological institute at Abu-Kabir, who robbed organs from bodies even of IDF soldiers. If someone takes organs from Jews surely it is not beyond imagining that they might do the same with the bodies of Palestinians.

Ynet reported on the discussion of that matter in the Knesset on 8/1/2002 and the following passage appeared in its report:

"In the course of the debate in the plenary session, Knesset Members Ahmad Tibi and Hashim Mahameed said that parts of bodies of Palestinians that had been taken to the Institute after terrorist attacks, among other things, had been made use of. MK Mahameed claimed that he had received that information from Palestinian doctors who related that "bodies had been returned to them empty of organs", in his words. He demanded that Hiss be put on trial Hiss for those acts.",7340,L-1516428,00.html

The report of the Committee that looked into the actions and the procedures at the medical institute at Abu Kabir included the following points:

  • The Institute harvests organs for the purposes of teaching and research, without the consent of the families, in contravention of the Law of Anatomy and Pathology, and on the basis of incorrect self-interpretation.
  • The Institute transfers organs to research institutes and universities, in return for payments and reimbursement of expenses.
  • The Institute does not have full documentation regarding the organs that were harvested from for the purposes of research and instruction.
  • All the research done at the Institute were done with the full knowledge and agreement of Prof. Hiss.
  • Prof. Hiss did not conform to the instructions of the Ministry of Health regarding research, instruction and the consent of the families. The management of the Institute attempted to cover up and to obscure the the seriousness of the acts that appear in the report.
  • Irregularities were discovered in registration of the money that was given to the Institute in return to for the salvaging of the organs.
  • On the one hand, the introduction of foreign materials into the bodies of deceased people for the purpose of giving the body a reasonable appearance before its burial, does not constitute disrespectful treatment of the deceased; on the contrary, it is an act that is done for the to for the sake of the dignity of the deceased and that of the family. On the other hand, when organs are taken from the body without the consent family for any purpose at all, then the introduction of foreign material into the body of the deceased for cosmetic purposes is it is an insult to the honour of the deceased and his family.
[The following passages concerning the testimony of the head of the official investigation commission, Judge Areyh Segalson were added on 28.8.2009]

In the report it was said that the organs had been harvested for the purposes of research and instruction and the payment that was received was "only" to cover the expenses and apparently did not include profit. In Judge Segalson's testimony to the Labour, Welfare and Health Committee (5/8/2003) things sounded a bit different and he termed the phrase "covering expenses" [Heb: kisui ha-hotza'ot] a "rationalization", one could even say disingenuousness or a swindle. It can be seen that the organs were also sold outside the country and that Judge Segalson was quite shocked at what he saw at Abu-Kabir. That is to say, one can certainly speak of commerce in organs, even though the language of the report was more cautious.

Here is an excerpt from Aryeh Segalson's testimony:

It is permitted to sell a temporal bridge outside the country for research, with a letter that is written in English and Professor Hiss confirms this, they send it out of the country. But, what is the self-justification? We did not sell, we took a fee for the expenses we incurred in salvaging that bone or the hyoid bone. It revolted me, because when I go to buy a suit I do not ask if it is the price of its cost, or the price of a button or the price of the lining. I buy a suit. The one who paid, that doctor who made the authorizations and I have the price, 300 Shekels for one bone. It goes abroad. If they took 300 Shekels or 250 whether it's the price of the cost or the price of the profit, that doesn't change the fact that is its price. We'll talk about the price later.

Regarding the organs that were removed here are excerpts from Segalson's testimony:

I'm telling you why I do: because they regularly removed testicles. From every man they removed one testicle. That testicle is also mine, just as they took down from the refrigerator that I was standing beside them and I also helped to put them in place, when they brought them from Holon. From the female soldier they take the tag, the watch, put them in a pouch and they register everything, because that is her property and they give it to the family. Testicles are property too, gentlemen. If there are two, it's not spark-plugs, you don't replace them. It is quite possible, and here I am proceeding to the call for leniency in the addition to the report, it is quite possible, as I heard, I do not want to read the report, that without research medicine would be set back 500 years. I understand that very well, but please, if that's the way it is, change the law. Write in the law that it is permitted to dissect, permitted to do research …

Aryeh Segalson:

I do not know if it is judicial or non-judicial. I have it written here in the protocol on page 4 and I put it to Professor Hiss, that they took bones that were sent out of the country and Professor Hiss replied, that's how it is written in the protocol: "I am not guilty, I did not publish the protocol." I am aware of that occurrence, I do not remember the name of that doctor, but it is indeed true that there is such a document and I confirm it. I confirm that, I confirm that such a document exists. That is to say, they took organs out of the country for research purposes. The justification was that it was done for the cost of salvaging bones.

In 2005 the newspaper Haaretz reported:
“Palestinian corpse used for IDF anatomy lesson”
Amos Harel
28 January 2005

The Breaking the Silence organization has collected new testimony from Israel Defense Forces soldiers on harsh actions carried out during the course of the fighting in the territories.

Two of the testimonies pertain to a military doctor who gave medics lessons in anatomy using the bodies of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces.

IDf sources said on Thursday that the army was unaware of the incidents and that the reports would be investigated.

An IDF conscript who served as a medic in the Ramallah district some two years ago told Haaretz that the "lesson" had taken place following a clash between an armed Palestinian and an IDF force.

The soldier said that the Palestinian's body had been riddled with bullets and that some of his internal organs had spilled out. The doctor pronounced the man dead and then "took out a knife and began to cut off parts of the body," the soldier said.

"He explained the various parts to us - the membrane that covers the lungs, the layers of the skin, the liver, stuff like that," the soldier continued.

"I didn't say anything because I was still new in the army. Two of the medics moved away, and one of them threw up. It was all done very brutally. It was simply contempt for the body. I saw other dead enemy bodies during my service. No other doctor did anything like that."

The second report came from a soldier who served in Hebron in October 2000. The soldier told Breaking the Silence that a comrade had fired live rounds at a Palestinian youth, Mansour Taha Ahmed, 21, who was standing some distance from a group of stone-throwers.

The soldier said he was firing rubber bullets at the stone-throwers when he suddenly heard his comrade fire live rounds, killing the young man.

No Military Police investigation was opened into the incident.

The Swedish journalist certainly could have discovered those facts if he had made a little effort. Maybe the story be look less juicy, since it was not just about Palestinians; and although it appears that Prof. Hiss was defended by the Health Minister, Nissim Dahan, it is very hard to say that the entire State of Israel was standing behind him.

Translated from Hebrew by George Malent

1 comment:

  1. I want to thank Shraga Elam and George Malent for their work on this article and its translation.

    I just blogged about it here.