I'd always dismissed the story as a classic anti-Semitic blood libel: and in its more dramatic versions, such as the lurid lie that Palestinians were actually being captured and killed for organ harvesting, it was. But this more nuanced truth is what we now learn:
Israel has admitted that it harvested organs from the dead bodies of Palestinians and Israelis in the 1990s, without permission from their families. The admission follows the release of an interview with Jehuda Hiss, the former head of Israel's forensic institute, in which he said that workers at the institute had harvested skin, corneas, heart valves and bones from Israelis, Palestinians and foreign workers.
In the interview, which was conducted in 2000 when Hiss was head of Tel Aviv's Abu Kabir forensic institute, he said: "We started to harvest corneas ... Whatever was done was highly informal. No permission was asked from the family."
Nancy Scheper-Hughes, who conducted the interview, told Al Jazeera on Monday that Hiss had said the "body parts were used by hospitals for transplant purposes - cornea transplants. They were sent to public hospitals [for use on citizens]. And the skin went to a special skin bank, founded by the military, for their uses", such as for burns victims.
Hiss was dismissed from his post four years ago. It's obviously unethical by any measure and the government says the illegal practice stopped many years ago. It is a far, far paler version than the original lie, but it suggests there was a small, isolated flame that provoked all that smoke. Israel's need for organ transplants is severe.
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