Israel says it no longer harvests organs of dead Palestinians, but is it true?

29 Dec 2023 01:00pm
A Palestinian mourns over the body of a relative killed in Israeli strike at the Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis on the southern Gaza Strip. - AFP FILE PIX
A Palestinian mourns over the body of a relative killed in Israeli strike at the Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis on the southern Gaza Strip. - AFP FILE PIX

SHAH ALAM – In the early 2000s, the Israeli army said that the practice of organ harvesting from Palestinians had ended more than a decade ago and it did not happen anymore.

However, just recently, around 80 bodies of Palestinians killed by the Israeli army returned to the Gaza Strip, had been ‘mutilated’ with Israelis accused of removing ‘vital organs from them’.

The bodies returned through the Karem Abu Salem crossing were received by the Gazan Health Ministry, which made the matter public and said that this was only one in a series of Israeli organ-harvesting practices.

The Jerusalem Post reported that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor and the Qatari-run Middle East Monitor claimed that this was not the first time Israel has wrongfully taken parts from Palestinian bodies in Israeli custody.

Euro-Med further stated that in recent years, Israel had even exhumed bodies from cemeteries designated for ‘enemy casualties’ – referring to Palestinians shot and killed during terror attacks - for the purpose of organ theft.

Previously, it was reported that the Israelis had stolen skin, organs and corneas of Palestinians who had been killed without the consent of the victims' families in the 1990s and had what was called the ‘Skin Bank’.

This was revealed in an interview conducted in 2000 by an American academic who released it following the row between Israel and Sweden over a report in the Stockholm newspaper Aftonbladet.

Aftonbladet quoted Palestinians as saying young men from the West Bank and Gaza Strip had been seized by the Israeli forces and their bodies returned to their families with missing organs.

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It was reported that in the 1990s, Abu Kabir Forensic Institute former head Dr Yehuda Hiss revealed that specialists at the hospital near Tel Aviv harvested skin, corneas, heart valves and bones from the bodies of Israeli soldiers, Israeli citizens, Palestinians and foreign workers without the permission from the family.

The interview with Hiss was released by University of California-Berkeley professor of anthropology Nancy Scheper-Hughes who had conducted a study of Abu Kabir.

The revelation led the Israeli army to confirm that the practice had ended.

Hiss was removed from his post in 2004, when some details about organ harvesting were first reported, but he still worked at the forensic institute at that time.

In 2008, American network CNN published a report revealing that Israel was considered the largest global centre for illegal organ trafficking.

The report also revealed Israel’s involvement in the crime of killing Palestinians to steal their internal organs and benefit from them illegally and to trade them in an illegal international network.

Israel was the only country that held the bodies of martyrs and it followed this as a policy, in mass graves.

Despite Israeli’s denial that skin and organ harvesting did not happen, online news portal Medium, quoting Arab portal Palghraph said: the discussion here is not only about organ theft, but also about the complete retention of bodies.

Another Israeli doctor and anthropology expert Dr Meira Weiss who had served at the Abu Kabir Hospital said that she saw how the organs were getting stolen especially from Palestinian corpses between 1996 and 2002, documented in her book ‘On Their Dead Bodies’.

“During my time at the institute, I witnessed how they would ‘take’ organs from a Palestinian body and not ‘take’ anything from the soldiers in return.

“They would take corneas, skin and heart valves, while noting that non-professionals would not notice the absence of these organs as they would place something plastic in place of the corneas and ‘take’ the skin from the back so that the family wouldn’t see it.

“In addition, the bodies of detained martyrs are used in medical colleges at Israeli universities for research purposes,” Weiss said.

She also confirmed the use of organs stolen by other organ banks in the Israeli occupation state for transplantation, research and medical education.

She added that many institute workers whom she interviewed discussed about the period of the first Intifada, from 1987 to 1993, describing it as the ‘good days’ when organs were harvested permanently and freely, compared to any other period.

The skins stolen were reportedly used to aid their injured military personnel while the organs were up for sale.

Now, with the recent cases of bodies being allegedly mutilated and having their organs removed, did the Israeli army lie about organ theft no longer being practiced and does the Skin Bank still exist?

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