OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — For the first time, Israel has tacitly admitted stealing Palestinian body parts for transplant in Jewish patients, vindicating accusations leveled by Palestinians and rights groups over the past years.
“We started to harvest corneas…whatever was done was highly informal. No permission was asked from the family,” pathologist Yehuda Hiss, the former head of the Abu Akbar Center, also known as the L. Greenberg Institute for Forensic Medicine, told Nancy Sheppard-Hughes, now a professor of Anthropology at the University of California-Berkeley, in a documentary aired by the Israeli Channel Two.
The documentary revealed that in the 1990s, forensic specialists harvested corneas, heart valves and bones from the bodies of Israeli soldiers, Israeli citizens, Palestinians and foreign workers, often without permission from relatives.
Hiss said his doctors often sought to mask the removal of corneas from bodies.
“We’d glue the eyelid shut. We wouldn’t take corneas from families we knew would open the eyelids.”
Other body parts believed to have been harvested from deceased Palestinians and others included heart arteries, bones and corneal tissues.
“The skins were taken from the bodies and transmitted to Hadasah hospital in West Jerusalem on the request of the Israeli army to be transplanted to wounded soldiers and in case of disaster,” said Hiss.
Hiss revealed that in the early 1990s, military surgeons began removing a thin layer of skin from bodies to treat burn victims, which he said was done without family consent.
Hughes reportedly decided to publish the interview, recorded in 2000 as part of her studies at the Israeli forensic institute, after a leading Swedish daily reported in August that Israeli soldiers killed Palestinians to trade in their organs.
A Swedish journalist revealed earlier this year that Israeli doctors at the Abu Akbar forensic institute had been harvesting organs from Palestinians killed by the Israeli army.
The Aftonbladet report, written by Donald Bostrom, cited an incident of Palestinian organ harvesting by Israel in 1992 during the first Intifada.
Ahmed Teibi, a member of the Israeli Knesset and head of the Arab nationalist Party, insists that the new evidence incriminates the Israeli army and government.
“If such is what they are willing to admit, imagine how much they are concealing,” he told IslamOnline.net.
Teibi says the revelations amounted to irrefutable evidence proving that Israeli doctors at the Abu Akbar institute harvested appendages and corneas from bodies of slain Palestinians in the 1990s.
He says the latest revelations underscored the “inherent racism plaguing the Israeli Jewish society.”
Teibi was the first to raise questions about the issue of Palestinian organ harvesting by Israeli doctors.
In January, 2002, then Israeli Health Minister Nessim Dahan said in response to a question by Teibi that he couldn’t deny or confirm that organs of Palestinian youths and children killed by the Israeli army were taken out for transplants or scientific research.
“I couldn’t say for sure that something like that didn’t happen.”
At that time, Teibi said he had received credible evidence proving that Israeli doctors at the forensic institute of Abu Akbar extracted such vital organs as the heart, kidneys and liver from the bodies of Palestinian youth and children killed by the Israeli army in Gaza and the West Bank.
The Israeli military confirmed to the Channel Two documentary that the practice of harvest Palestinian organs took place in the 1990ss.
“This activity ended a decade ago and does not happen any longer.”
Palestinians, however, insist that the Israeli army continued to harvest Palestinian organs for transplant or for sale in the black market.
Earlier this year, relatives of several Palestinians killed by the Israeli army during Al-Aqsa uprising told IOL that their beloved ones were returned to them shortly after they were killed without their vital organs and with a huge cut from the stomach to the neck stitched up.
* Khalid Amayreh a journalist based in the Occupied Palestinian town of Dura. He obtained his MA in journalism from the University of Southern Illinois in 1983.