Friday, August 28, 2009

Organ harvest, or planted story?

IT was a good sensational story, or so the Swedish daily paper Aftonbladet seems to have thought. "Our sons' organs are being plundered", was the headline, on August 17, photographer-journalist Donald Bostrom quoting a distraught Palestinian mother, for a report claiming Israeli soldiers were hunting young Palestinians for their body parts, so these could be sold for transplants.

Trouble is, while many Israeli atrocities have been witnessed and documented, and some Israeli soldiers (Breaking the Silence) have made it their responsibility to expose their compatriots' wrongdoing, Blostrom offered no real evidence for this blood-curdling tale. What he relied on was something he heard in 1992 about unauthorised removal of parts from corpses for medical labs, and a topical item about a man in New Jersey, Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, arrested in July, and accused of dealing in black-market kidneys.

Swedish firm IKEA could not get away with selling a piece of furniture like this. It just does not fit together. There was a scandal in Israel over pathologist Yehudah Hiss, who would have been practising in 1992 when Bostrom says he heard about unauthorised bit removals. Rosenbaum apparently got into the organ trade in 1999. But organs removed on the battlefield or even in the morgue would not do for transplants. The American broker bought his kidneys from live donors, some from Israel, poor people desperate for the money.

Bostrom and his defenders say "well, he was only asking for an investigation". But that's a feeble excuse. Would a reputable newspaper print a story linking somebody with a series of murders say, then hope to keep its reputation, not to say libel damages, by saying it was "only asking"?

It seems no Palestinian, Israeli or international human rights organisation was prepared to take up the investigation, whether because they didn't take the story seriously or because they have enough genuine issues to be getting on with. Bostrom was debated on the Iranian-sponsored Press TV by Matthew Cassel, who says ill-founded stories like this do the Palestinian cause a disservice.
Baseless organ theft accusations will not bring Israel to justice.

In the Jewish daily Forward, Rebecca Dube points out the gaps in Bostrom's story, while not being complacent about either the wider issue of trafficking body-parts or the even wider fear this arouses.

Illicit Body-Part Sales Present Widespread Problem, by Rebecca Dube

Thanks to Ali Abumineh of the Electronic Intifada for bringing my attention to both these items.

Unfortunately, there are atrocity-junkies on either side of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, and especially among the remote "supporters", for whom any story of the other side's alleged offences will do, the gorier the better, and any request for evidence be viewed as traitorous. They can psyche themselves up, if that's what is needed, but cannot understand why nobody else is aroused.

I expect the body part snatchers story will be all round the internet, complete with videos, and it will not occur to those spreading it that by adulterating the amount of good evidence available against the Zionists, they actually weaken the Palestinian cause, as surely as if they had supplied duff ammunition to Palestinian fighters.

Imagine a court case in which the prosecution has enough evidence for a conviction, but someone plants false material in it, seemingly pointing to a more serious charge, but actually sabotaging the case. The defence has no trouble refuting the false accusations, so focusses on them, to win the jury, or for the whole case to be thrown out of court. I have seen something like that happen in disputes among people I knew. I am sure it can happen in world politics too, where unlike the many amateurs who think they are assisting the Palestinians, the Israeli government has experienced professionals at the game.

I don't know whether anything like that happened in this case. Bostrom and his editors are also professionals, and presumably honest ones, and should have known to take extra care. What we do know is that the Israeli government has made the most of this story, for more than one reason, blowing it up into a major issue with Sweden. The head of the main Swedish Jewish community body has complained that Israel has blown the issue out of all proportion. Israelis have been told the Swedes are guilty of a "blood libel", in other words comparing it to medieval antisemitism, and there are calls to boycott Swedish goods.

Here is what Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, a regular critic of his government and its treatment of the Palestinians, has to say:
"Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman should have sent a big bouquet to Donald Bostrom, the Swedish photographer and journalist who wrote the article claiming that the Israel Defense Forces harvested organs from dead Palestinians. And the Foreign Ministry should write a letter of thanks to the editors of his paper, Aftonbladet. It has been a long time since such a propaganda asset has fallen into the hands of the friends of the occupation. It has been a long time since such damage has been caused to people seriously attempting to document its horrors.

The bizarre Swedish report led to a no-less-bizarre Israeli response. Bad and irresponsible journalism crossed paths with bad and irresponsible diplomacy. Instead of simply denying the report, Lieberman, true to form, acted like a bully... However, the article's damage to the fight against the occupation cannot be ignored.

Serious journalism's task is to document, investigate and prove - not to call on others to investigate, as the Swedish tabloid did. One may, for example, accuse the Swedish reporter of a crime, writing that he rapes little boys or girls, all based on suspicions and rumors, and call on the Swedish police to investigate. That's what the reporter did with his claims of trafficking in Palestinian organs.

There were cases in which the organs of Palestinians who had been killed were harvested without permission, something the Institute of Forensic Medicine has done to others in Israel, for research purposes. But it's a long way from that to suspicion of trafficking in organs based only on the fact that in 1992 a dead Palestinian was found whose organs had been removed and his body sewn back up. And 17 years later a few Jews were arrested on suspicion of trafficking in human organs. That's not professional journalism, that's cheap and harmful journalism.

The Israeli occupation is ugly enough without the contribution of Nordic fairy tales. Its wrongs are abominable even without exaggerations and inventions. We, a small group of Israeli journalists trying to document the occupation, always knew that we must not publish an unfounded report. One mistake and the whole journalistic enterprise would fall into the hands of official propaganda, which automatically denies all suspicions and is just waiting for a mistake....

Over the years, the IDF has killed thousands of innocent civilians, among them women and children. The Shin Bet security service has tortured hundreds of people under interrogation, sometimes to death. Israel prevents food and medicine from reaching Gaza. Sick people are extorted by the Shin Bet to become collaborators in return for medical treatment. Thousands of homes in the territories have been demolished for nothing. Dozens of people have been killed by special units when they could have been arrested instead. Thousands of detainees have sat in jail for months or years without trial. Is that not enough to draw a reliable portrait of the occupation? Is that not shocking enough?

The Coalition of Women for Peace see a method in their government's madness.

They have written to the Swedish Prime Minister:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mr. Fredrik Reinfeldt
Prime Minister
The Parliament of Sweden

Your Excellency,

We, citizens of Israel, Palestinian and Jewish members of the Coalition of Women for Peace (Israel), turn to you in order to express our concern in light of the attack of the Israeli government on Sweden, and on the Swedish government in particular.

It is not by chance that the Israeli government has chosen to attack the Swedish government and create a clash between the two countries over an unfounded newspaper article, while exploiting the history of the Jewish people and the Holocaust.

In our understanding, the Israeli government has chosen to attack the Swedish government due to its current term of presidency of the European Union, aiming to undermine the capacity of Sweden to lead a European-wide political move to stop the Israeli policy of occupation and settlements in the Palestinian Territories.

In February 2008 representatives of the Coalition of Women for Peace were invited to the Swedish parliament in Stockholm. We were deeply impressed by the commitment of Sweden to promote peace. We hope that this attack will not discourage the Swedish government from acting towards peace and justice in the Middle East.

We, citizens of Israel committed to promoting a just Israeli-Palestinian peace, turn to you with request that by the power of your position and the position of Sweden as the president of the European Union, you will take action to generate a European political move with the aim to remove the obstacles for a just peace: dismantlement of all settlements, end to the Israeli occupation in the Palestinian Territories, realization of the Right of Return according to the UN General Assembly Resolution 194, guaranty of full civil and social equality for all residents of the region, and guaranty of representation to the Israeli civil society in the Peace Processes, including Palestinian citizens and women from diversity of ethnic identities in Israel.

Kind Regards,
Coalition of Women for Peace, Israel

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At 2:37 PM, Blogger white rabbit said...

Very thoughtful piece. I was struggling with this one - I couldn't quite buy it. I don't quite know why but some alarm bells were ringing.


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