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Israel 'confirms organ harvesting'

Dec. 21, 2009 2:37 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 23, 2009 9:19 A.M.)
Bethlehem – Ma’an/Agencies – Israel has confirmed that its forensic scientists in the 1990s took organs from dead bodies, including those of Palestinians, without their families’ consent, an Israeli television report said.

Israel’s Channel 2 TV aired an interview on Saturday with the former director of the Abu Kabir forensic institute, Dr Yehuda Hiss, in which he admitted to taking skin, corneas, heart valves, and bones from Israeli soldiers, Israeli civilians, Palestinians and foreign workers.

The report appeared to confirm the premise of an article in the Swedish daily Aftonbladet, which caused an explosive controversy when it appeared in August. The article quoted Palestinians alleging that Israel returned their relatives bodies with their chests sewn up, suggesting organ harvesting.

Israeli officials denounced the report at the time, labeling it "anti-Semitic," but did not comment on the specific allegations.

The interview with Hiss was filmed in 2000 by an American academic, Nancy Sheppard-Hughes, a professor of anthropology at the University of California-Berkeley, who said she released the footage in the wake of the Aftonbladet controversy.

In a response to the TV report, the Israeli military confirmed that the practice took place. "This activity ended a decade ago and does not happen any longer," the military said in a statement quoted by Channel 2.

In the interview, Hiss describes the steps he and other scientists took to conceal the thefts.

"We used to take corneas without plucking out the eyes. We used to glue them shut. We did that for the purpose of scientific advancement," Hiss said in the interview.

"We used to take skin from the backs of dead people, and the families wouldn’t notice that because they buried the dead without turning them over," another pathologist is quoted as saying in the report.

Hiss said he ignored Israeli law that prohibits harvesting organs without a family’s consent.

"We used to send organs to Israeli hospitals, particularly Tel Hashomer in Tel Aviv, because many doctors there were friends of mine. We didn’t ask for money in return, but four years later, the hospital gave us a microscope. We also sent organs to Hadassah Hospital, and in return they gave us a video camera that can film corpses from inside," Hiss was quoted as saying.

According to Channel 2, In 1986, Israel established a skin bank. Skin supplied by the Abu Kibir institute was used in transplants for wounded soldiers and burn patients.

The right-wing Israeli Knesset member Aryeh Eldad, a plastic surgeon, was also quoted on the program saying, “We had orders to harvest organs without families consent.”

Former Israeli MK Arieh Eldad who is a surgeon specialized in plastic surgery and burns said, according to Israeli TV report, "We had orders to harvest organs without families consent."

Lawsuits were filed against the institute, however, including by the families of Israeli soldiers. One of these came from the father of a soldier, who appeared on the Channel 2 report saying that he opened his son’s coffin to find that his neck was cut and his eyes plucked out.

Under mounting pressure, Hiss was fired in 1998.

Israel’s Health Ministry told Channel 2 that all harvesting had been done with permission and, "For the last 10 years, Abu Kabir has been working according to ethics and Jewish law."
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