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Researcher says he believes Swedish paper's organ report

Aug. 23, 2009 8:50 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 24, 2009 1:55 P.M.)
Bethlehem – Ma'an – While many have opted to stay out of the ongoing breakdown in Israel-Sweden relations over an article making unusual allegations against Israel's military, one Palestinian academic said he believed its reports of "organ harvesting" could be true.

In a statement on Friday, prisoners' affairs researcher Abed An-Nasser Farwana insisted that certain elements in the provocative but back-page article in Sweden's daily Aftonbladet tabloid confirmed his personal suspicions.

"All the facts and testimonies, particularly with regard to [Israeli] occupation forces isolating [prisoners], killing hundreds after seizing them, shooting prisoners and holding bodies in the 'numbers cemetery,' validate what the newspaper has published," said the researcher, who has made unorthodox claims in the past.

Ma'an could not confirm his latest allegations, nor have any prominent Palestinian or Israeli officials made similar remarks on either the Swedish author's report or the more recent claims from Farwana.

The tabloid story in question, which quoted Palestinian families alleging that years ago Israeli soldiers had returned the autopsied bodies of young men with certain organs missing, also linked its claims to the recent exposure of a crime ring in the American state of New Jersey, where a US rabbi was charged with conspiring to broker the sale of a human kidney needed for a transplant.

The latest claims against Israeli soldiers have not in general been taken seriously by most news outlets, although the original article drew extensive criticism from Israel shortly after the daily newspaper Haaretz reported on its publication on Friday. A number of Israeli officials were particularly incensed, and have lodged protests with Sweden's embassy in Tel Aviv and its Foreign Ministry in Stockholm.

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's foreign minister, said the article amounted to a new kind of "blood libel" against Jews, in general, rather than the soldiers mentioned in the story. Lieberman added that the report reminded him of Sweden's neutrality during World War II, and suggested there were parallels between it and Sweden's alleged role in the Jewish Holocaust.

According to Farwana, Israel maintains secret prisons for Palestinians and Arab detainees. He said the country holds presumably "missing" Palestinians and quoted relatives who have made similar accusations. Farwana claimed Israel had refused to cooperate with Red Cross or Palestinian Authority requests for lists of the arrested, and that the fate of many seized in Gaza during the latest assault there was unknown.

While Farwana said he could confirm his specific accusations against Israel's prisons service, the researcher speculated that a link could also be drawn between what the Swedish newspaper published, and said it was possible that a number of those missing Palestinians were deliberately killed for their organs.

The prisoners' researcher did not offer any evidence for the "organ harvesting" allegations, nor did he claim to have any. However, he said his assumptions were based on the fact that Israel has in the past held large numbers of deceased Palestinians and other Arabs in order to exchange them for captured soldiers, such as in 2008 when the country turned over some 200 corpses to Hizbullah.

According to Farwana, the bodies were returned decomposed down to their bones, apparently leading him to suspect the Swedish report was accurate, and that the decomposition served as a kind of cover for the theft of organs. He said about 300 bodies were still being held in the "numbers cemetery," a grave some have alleged contains the remains of Palestinians and Arabs killed in various conflicts with Israel.

Meanwhile, thousands of Israelis signed an online petition to boycott the Swedish furniture chain IKEA, according to the daily newspaper Haaretz on Sunday. The signatories called on Stockholm to take a stronger stand against the newspaper, defying official statements from the Swedish government that it could not constitutionally interfere in its own free press.

"In the wake of the anti-Semitic publication of a Medieval-type blood libel against IDF soldiers, and the ongoing silence of the Swedish government on the matter, it is unacceptable that we continue to support the Swedish retailer IKEA," the petition read. "Please, don't just sign the petition, we need real action!"

Earlier this week, both Iran's Press TV and Israel's The Jerusalem Post provided a platform for the Swedish report's author, Donald Bostrom, to discuss his side of the story and death threats made against him.

"What I experienced during this day is many people from Israel who called me haven't read the article. So they think I'm accusing the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] of stealing organs. That's not what I'm doing," The Jerusalem Post quoted Bostrom as saying.

"I just recorded the Palestinian families saying that. And I think it should be further investigated, either to kill the rumor once and for all, or if it happens to be true, then to start the legal actions," he added. "My intention was serious and in order to do something good."

"It's serious and that's why I think you in Israel should be concerned about that illegal trafficking and not attacking me," the Post quoted him as saying. "Right now I am a little bit shocked and concerned, because nobody is thinking about the real facts."

Meanwhile at least one Palestinian group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, called on human rights organizations to carry out a serious investigation into the allegations.

The PFLP said the report, given its detailed names, dates and photographs and the staunch support of the Swedish government for the reporter, must be taken seriously. The group said the story was similar to alleged violations carried out by soldiers in the 1980s in Gaza, where rumors floated around that soldiers had stolen organs from children taken to Israeli hospitals.

Later on Sunday, Aftonbladet published a follow-up article making the same allegations and accusing Israeli officials of overstepping appropriate boundaries of criticism.
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