After years of denial, Israeli institute admits illegal harvesting body parts
Dr. Yehuda Hiss, dismissed in 2012 for gross mismanagement of the Abu Kir forensic institute. See Notes and links. Photo by Michal Fattal
By Staff writer, Al Arabiya
November 14, 2013
Israel has agreed to return organs of dead Palestinians harvested by its forensic pathologists during autopsies, Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh told Ma’an news agency on Wednesday.
Head of Israel’s Abu Kabir forensic institute, Jehuda Hiss, had admitted harvesting organs from dead bodies without the permission of their families.
“We started to harvest corneas … Whatever was done was highly informal. No permission was asked from the family,” Hiss said in an interview with an American academic in 2000. The interview was released in 2010 and part of it was aired by Israel’s Channel 2 TV.
The Channel 2 report said forensic experts harvested bones, corneas, heart valves and skin from dead Israeli soldiers, citizens, Palestinians and even foreign workers.
The Israeli army admitted to organ harvesting but said the practice was no longer performed. “This activity ended a decade ago and does not happen any longer,” the military told Channel 2.
In the interview, Hiss described how his doctors would mask the removal of corneas from bodies. “We’d glue the eyelid shut,” he said. “We wouldn’t take corneas from families we knew would open the eyelids,” Associated Press reported.
The Palestinian official said Israel will “soon be returning some of the organs,” Ma’an reported.
By Jonathan Cook, blog from Nazareth
November 15, 2013
Remember back to 2009, when there was a huge row over allegations in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet that Israel had been secretly harvesting body parts from Palestinians in the occupied territories.
There were problems with this story, which suggested that Israel had a shoot-to-kill policy so that it could get organs from those it killed.
But Israel effectively shut down all debate about the story and the validity of any of its allegations by accusing anyone who mentioned organ harvesting in Israel of committing a “blood libel” against Israel / Jews.
I found myself caught up in the margins of this row. In the wake of the Swedish report, I submitted an article to the Guardian Comment is Free section making a point that was actually well known inside Israel at that time, though largely concealed to outside observers.
Israel has one forensic lab, known as Abu Kabir, near Tel Aviv, where autopsies are carried out. The chief pathologist there, Prof Yehuda Hiss, had by the time the Swedish story broke been repeatedly pulled up for stealing body parts – and on an industrial scale. Not just from Palestinians but from Israelis too.
His office was found to contain thousands of preserved body parts; it seems he harvested them to use them in medical experiments because of a shortage of Israeli donors.
What was surprising was that, despite his being repeatedly investigated by the police and admitting to organ theft, Hiss was never jailed by the courts nor was he removed from Abu Kabir.
When I tried to publish this piece, which you can read here, the Guardian ran a mile, terrified of the “blood libel” accusation Israel was using very successfully to silence the media. It was one of many occasions when I personally experienced the Guardian pulling its punches to avoid upsetting Israel.
Now it seems, according to Israel Channel 2, Israel has very belatedly agreed to return some body parts to the Palestinian families whose loved ones were organ-harvested.
Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh said: “The [former] director of the institute, Dr Yehuda Hiss, admitted to stealing organs of martyrs and other Palestinians during autopsies.”
The admission being referred to actually dates to an interview from 2000 with a US academic, nine years before the Aftonbladet report, although it was only made widely public in 2010. Nonetheless, Hiss had admitted as much to the Israeli media, police and courts for many years.
In other words, Israel knew all along that the accusation of official complicity in the theft of body parts was no blood libel; it was the long-standing reality. So why do we need to read the Arab media to find out about it?
Notes and links
Deputy Health Minister fires Abu Kabir chief pathologist Yehuda Hiss, Ha’aretz October 2012
Israelis and the trade in transplant organs, this post from 2012 contains five different news stories about the arrest of Israelis involved in organ trafficking. It includes this comment from
Israel’s Health Ministry: “The guidelines at that time were not clear.” It added, “For the last 10 years, Abu Kabir has been working according to ethics and Jewish law.” That’s the same Abu Kabir which has just been declared to have been suffering from gross mismanagement for some time.
And this one from 2009 on the sensationalist Swedish article: Organ theft accusations are ‘cheap and harmful journalism’
Alder Hey children’s hospital: Organ scandal background BBC, January 2001