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Swedish tabloid runs follow-up 'organ harvesting' article

Aug. 24, 2009 9:46 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 25, 2009 5:24 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - Despite Israel's explosive reaction to its first story that alleged soldiers had "harvested" organs from Palestinian detainees, a leading Swedish tabloid ran a second article in its Sunday edition.

The Swedish daily Aftonbladet made similarly bizarre accusations in its follow-up story, quoting family members who claimed a 19-year-old Palestinian's organs were removed from his body following the teen's death in 1992.

Relatives of the Palestinian, identified as Bilal Ahmad Ghanem from the northern West Bank, said the body was returned days after his shooting death with a scar running from his neck down to his abdomen. Bilal's mother speculated that the scar was evidence of foul play.

"It was the middle of the night. The soldiers caused an electrical power outage in the entire village. Bilal was returned in a black bag; he had no teeth. The body was stitched from the neck all the way down to the abdomen," the mother said, according to the paper.

Family members also said the military demanded they pay 5,000 Israeli shekels (about 1,300 US dollars) for the boy's body, and that it was eventually returned about a week later.

While the first article was not taken particularly seriously, the Israeli government and many leading officials condemned the report as a "blood libel" against Jews, in general, rather than the soldiers accused in the report. Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, declared that the article reminded him of Sweden's neutrality in World War II, and its alleged indifference to the Jewish Holocaust.

"It's a shame that the Swedish Foreign Ministry fails to intervene in a case of blood libels against Jews. This is reminiscent of Sweden's stand during World War II, when it failed to intervene as well," Lieberman said, according to the Hebrew-language daily Yedioth Ahronoth.

"The Swedish government crossed a red line when it did not condemn the article," added Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "We do not want the Swedish government to apologize, we want it to issue a condemnation."

Other Israeli ministers expressed their outrage, including Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who said Swedish officials refusing to condemn the article "may not be welcome in the State of Israel," according to The Jerusalem Post.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai said he would prevent the tabloid's reporters from receiving work permits in Israel, while Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog urged Israeli officials to take legal action against the paper, the Post reported.

In Sweden, representatives of the country's pro-Israel groups urged Israeli officials to calm down.

"The calls from the Israeli government to the Swedish government to distance itself from or to comment on the article, for me are difficult to believe and don't help the relations," said Gunnar Hokmark, president of the Swedish-Israel Friendship Association.

Hokmark added in an interview with the Post, "Making the article a conflict between the two governments, as I see Lieberman doing, to me is unwise. And I'm saying this as a strong friend of Israel."

Meanwhile, Aftonbladet's chief editor, Jan Helin, rejected Israeli claims that he or his paper were motivated by a hatred of Jews, rather than the specific allegations made in the report.

"I'm not a Nazi. I'm not anti-Semitic," wrote Helin in an op-ed published on Sunday. "I'm a responsible editor who gave the green light to an article because it raises a few questions."
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