Organs from anybody

Published in the book Inshallah, sixth edition 2012


By Donald Boström
‘‘organs were taken from everyone; from Jews and Muslims, from soldiers and Palestinian stone-throwers, from tourists and from immigrants.” Lieutenant Colonel Doctor Chen Kugel, pathologist and former Deputy Director at Abu Kabir Forensic Institute, confirms that illegal organ harvesting was performed in Israel. ‘‘Organs were sold to anyone, ‘‘ Dr Chen Kugel told Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, ‘‘Anyone who wanted organs just had to pay for them.”

The worst fears for Palestinian families in the occupied areas seem to be true. What exactly happened to the victims in Abu Kabir is still unknown to them. Their sons were shot in battles in the occupied territories and taken across the border into Israel. According to Dr Chen Kugel and the Director of Abu Kabir, Dr Yehuda Hiss, young palestinian men became involuntary donors of organs, bones and tissues. As this information has been provided by the two former top executives at Abu Kabir Institute, it must be regarded as highly credible. Illicit organ harvesting has been systematically conducted in Israel for decades.

In August 2009 I raised the question in a Swedish daily newspaper, Aftonbladet. What had happened to these young men? With so many mutilated bodies, the relatives have a right to know what had happened. I had reported the same story in the 1990s and had later written about it in my book Inshallah in 2001. But the story now became world news, and the article created a firestorm of protests including a libel lawsuit for 7.5 million us dollars against me and the newspaper. How-ever, the case was dismissed by the New York Supreme Court one year later. I also received death threats, and people called me and promised to destroy my life. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu demanded that the Minister of foreign affairs in Sweden condemn the article. A demand that was rejected by the Swedish Government.

Professor Nancy Scheper-Hughes, founder of Organ Watch, says it all: ‘‘The only thing that was not raised in the avalanche of articles, editorials and news columns published in Israel, Europe and the United States was one simple question: Was the organ theft story true?”

Dr Chen Kugel further maintains that it was easiest to steal organs from Palestinians. ‘‘If any complaints came from their families, they were the enemy and were of course lying. No one would believe them.”
And that was exactly what happened when they expressed themselves in my article.

Between January and August 1992, 133 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces on the Occupied Territories without a fair trial. Sixty-nine of them were brought across the border into Israel and their bodies were ripped open. One of them was Bilal Ahmed Ghanan, to whom I refered in my article. A large number of their families testified to me that they had seen various signs that made them believe that their sons served as involuntary organ donors. Their suspicions were based on a number of commonalities; Their sons had for one reason or another become liquidated by the Israeli army, they had been transported to Israel, their bodies had been gutted and basted together, and they had then been brought back some time later in the middle of the night.

That is the saddest aspect, nobody cared about the victims and their families. Young Palestinian men had been killed and then ripped open and no one took their families despair seriously.

Without Chen Kugel, Scheper-Hughes and other courageous people, we would not have had access to the essential inside information that we have today.

When Nancy Scheper-Hughes listened again to the tape of an interview she had conducted with the Director of the Forensic Institute, Dr Yehuda Hiss, ten years previously, she wrote, ‘‘To my surprise Dr Yehuda Hiss readily admitted to informal organ harvesting from Israeli citizens, soldiers and ’Muslim’ bodies. This was routine and continuing at full throttle in a modified form since then”. Yehuda Hiss told Scheper-Hughes that when he removed the corneas, he glued the eyelids together to prevent the families discovering the truth. When they took skin from Palestinians they removed it only from the back, and when they took organs from the bodies they stuffed them with the center of toilet rolls and different materials to cover up the theft. Scheper-Hughes offered the programme 60 Minutes on the American tv network cbs, the opportunity to broadcast her sensational interview with Yehuda Hiss. They declined.

Paradoxically, when the controversy over my article was at its height, my most important defence came from inside Israel, from the very heart of the whole matter. Doctor Chen Kugel, with some colleagues, urged Scheper-Hughes to write a rebuttal to those in Israel who were ‘‘crying wolf” and using blood libels to bludgeon their critics into submission. The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, wrote that my questions were relevant, and it was finally tv Channel 2 in Israel that broadcast the interview with Hiss resulting in headlines in the world press: ‘‘Israel admits organ harvesting”. Surprisingly, the very next day, Army representatives confessed as well, and told the media that for many years the Israeli army had also been engaged in illegal organ harvesting. According to Dr Kugel organ theft continues to this day.

In the article in a following chapter by Scheper-Hughes, Chen Kugel claims that: ‘‘There were only two considerations at the Institute: the physical condition of the body and its organs, and the ability to conceal what they were doing.”
The Segelson Report issued in April 2001, a classified government report from the Ministry of Health in Israel, which I have read, states that Abu Kabir illegally harvested organs and bones and sold them abroad for money. Furthermore, ‘‘The financial transactions at Abu Kabir have no clear documentation. The numbers and figures just don’t add up.” The secret government report shows that the Israeli government’s outburst against me and the newspaper Aftonbladet, and the political crisis involving the Swedish government were just pure theatrics. The secret report proves they knew that my article was relevant and true.

Some sections of the report were leaked and Mr Shaul Yaalom, Member of the Knesset of the Mafdal Party, was furious.
In the Knesset Meeting no. 326, July 3rd, 2002 he said: ‘‘It is [moral]bankruptcy, bias, patent dishonesty of the Justice system in Israel. The report makes it clear that they harvested organs for transplantation, research and trade.”
Neither the Government of Israel nor any other authority did anything to stop the illegal organ harvesting.

When Dr Kugel and three of his colleagues wrote a letter to the Ministry of Health concerning the illicit organ harvesting at the Institute they expected a reaction. This came from the Ministry of Health but not in the way they thought. They were fired from their jobs and punished in other ways.

Since the Government of Israel knew my article was correct, it was not a matter of right or wrong. The Israeli parliament, the army, a large share of the staff in the health sector knew it was true, and the media knew it very well.

Nancy Sheper-Hughes writes that several medical and transplant colleagues in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem often interjected disparaging references to the “despicable blood libel by the Swedish media, even though they knew full well – and knew that I knew – that tucked inside Boström’s story was a real medical and political scandal of international proportions.”

Of course, there is an ancient anti-Semitic tradition rooted in medieval Europe that falsely accuses Jews of murdering Christian children to use their blood for various purposes. However, my piece in Aftonbladet about organ harvesting was not informed by anti-Semitic bigotry but on data that I systematically collected from more than forty trips to the area. I spent weeks travelling around the West Bank and Gaza, from village to village, from refugee camp to refugee camp, using my computer list of victims to find the right house in the right village and the right families to interview. I continued interviewing the Israeli army, I read the documents, I had meetings with Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations concerning the theft of organs, and I attended nightly funerals for young men in the northern West Bank whose bodies had been ripped open. The article was nothing more, nothing less, than a normal and decent journalistic piece of work.

It was not about the article itself. It is all about breaking the code. The code of loyalty. This public secret I wrote about was not allowed to be mentioned.

But why was organ harvesting so extensive in Israel? The need for organs is the same as elsewhere, but the availability of organs seems to be less than in many other countries, due to relgious reasons. The Israeli State Controller Report of year 2000 states that there were 10.5 donors for one million residents. Only 3 percent of Israeli citizens carried a donor card. In Europe the figure was 20 percent and in the United States, 33 percent. In order to plug this gap in demand two criminal systems were developed: organ harvesting and organ trafficking. Both of these methods were in widespread use in Israel. One of the links between Israel and the u.s. is represented by the famous case in New Jersey where Rabbi Rosenbaum acted as a matchmaker for people in need of organs. The criminal organ-link between Rosenbaum and Israel is crystal clear and well documented by the f.b.i in the United States.

When the worst of the uproar around my article died away, the organ harvesting of Palestinian young men was confirmed by Israeli doctors and members of the Israel Defence Forces (i.d.f.). They admitted that they had stolen organs from Palestinians – the enemy. That was breaking news.

For the first time two facts were made known to the international community:
1. Israeli doctors harvested organs illegally from Palestinians.
2. The Israeli army was also involved in illegal organ harvesting.
Prior to this, the actual perpetrators had never confirmed these facts. The first allegations made against Dr Hiss since the early nineties were made by religious Jews in Israel and not by Palestinians.

In 2002 the Israeli Attorney General, Elyakim Rubinstein, ordered the police to launch an investigation against Dr Hiss. At that time he was not convicted, although he acknowledged organ harvesting in 120 cases. Two months after my article in August 2009, Dr Hiss was for the first time convicted in court to pay the equivalent of nearly half a million dollars for the illegal handling of organs.

In the wake of the organ debate origin from the article in Aftonbladet in late 2009, the number of transplants performed in 2010 in Israel become particularly low. A new legal practice began to see the light, and in August 2010 living donors began receiving compensation of several thousand shekels, and already in 2011 a dramatic increase in organ transplants was recorded in Israel due to new measures to attract people to become legal organ donors. A ‘‘chain of living donors” program was launched in Israel during 2011. Living donors  were offered compensation to cover 40 days of lost wages and monetary benefits of up to nis 30,000 for proven expenses of up to five years, including disability insurance, life insurance, five psychological treatment sessions, and a week-long convalescence vacation.

Apparently the new methods made for an increase in the number of organ transplants in 2011 by almost four hundred percent compared to the previous year, according to the National Transplant Center’s annual report. The number of organ donor signatures rose by 71 percent during 2011.

Another milestone was reached in 2011 when the percentage of families consenting to organ donations in cases of brain death exceeded 50 percent. Despite the optimistic figures, Israel’s rate of organ donations from the deceased remains at the bottom of the list for Western countries.

Neither the Palestinians families, nor my article in Aftonbladet, claimed that the Israeli army hunted young Palestinians in order to steal their organs. That bizarre accusation against the article was just a propaganda trick in order to divert attention from the illicit organ harvesting taking place in the country.

Eleven years ago, in the first edition of this book, I asked the question: What has happened to these young men? Today we know that a number of them had their organs stolen against the law.

Eleven years later, there are no investigations, no answers, no convicted perpetrators. Eleven years later and the questions remain.