March 5, 2011 at 7:18 am 1 comment

Continued from:

The old blood libel


Excerpts from his book “How to avoid Armageddon”

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On August 17, 2009, the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet, one of the larger daily newspapers in Scandinavia, published an article with the title translated as “Our sons are plundered of their organs,” which claimed that in the early nineteen nineties, many young men from the West Bank and Gaza Strip had been seized by Israeli forces and their dead bodies subsequently returned to their families with organs missing. The assertion was that the missing organs were used for the purpose of organ transplants for needy Israel patients and even for illicit organ trafficking.

Newspapers all over the world, especially in Arab and Muslim countries enthusiastically featured the story, while in Israel the general reaction was of deep dismay because the article conjured up the age-old blood libel leveled at Jews throughout Europe and parts of the Arab world. Jews had often been accused of kidnapping little Christian or Muslim boys and using their blood for ritual purposes. Many a murderous pogrom was started with someone making such a fraudulent claim.

But the article, written by veteran journalist and photographer Donald Boström, did contain some truth. The article claimed that Israel has a serious shortage of organ transplant donors and is always trying to find ways to alleviate this problem. Also a Rabbi Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, from Brooklyn, USA, mentioned in the article, had been arrested by the FBI in July 2009 on suspicion of illicit organ trafficking and had admitted to having acquired organs from donors in Israel for a long time.

In commenting critically on the article, it is only fair to refer to interviews with the Director of Israel’s Institute of Forensic Medicine, Professor Yehuda Hiss, on the subject of organ removal from cadavers without family permission or knowledge – a point not mentioned in the article, but nevertheless giving it some credence.

In an interview on Israel’s Channel 2 television station, Professor Hiss admitted that he had harvested organs in the nineteen nineties. He said, “We started to harvest corneas. We did it in a highly informal manner and no permission was asked from the family.” Israeli health officials later acknowledged that such incidents had taken place for a short period and had been stopped years ago.

But there are a number of other revelations in the article. Donald Boström writes about the ambush of a young man, Bilal Ahmed Ghanem, by Israeli forces. He skillfully presents a dramatic picture of a young man, wanted for years by the Israeli security forces, and hiding in the hills beforehand. Boström describes the night ambush: “Everything went according to plan for the Israeli special force. The soldiers stubbed their cigarettes, put away their cans of Coca-Cola, and calmly aimed through the broken window (of a carpentry shop). When Bilal was close enough they needed only to pull the triggers. The first shot hit him in the chest. According to villagers who witnessed the incident he was subsequently shot with one bullet in each leg. Two soldiers then ran down from the carpentry workshop and shot Bilal once in the stomach.”

The description indicates that Mr. Boström has a fantastic eye for detail. Too fantastic in fact. When he writes, “The soldiers stubbed their cigarettes, put away their cans of Coca-Cola, and calmly aimed through the broken window,” he prompts the question – how could anyone apart from the soldiers have seen all that? After all, ambushes are always staged very quietly so as to catch the quarry completely by surprise. The last thing the soldiers would do, contrary to some Hollywood versions of ambushes, is to puff away at a cigarette, the light of which can be seen from a long way, or sip Coke out of a can that if accidentally brushed against the ground in the dead of night, can easily set off a warning noise to any cautious fugitive. And which invisible eyes witnessed all this puffing and sipping? How close would the observer have to be in order to see that the ambushers were indeed aiming “calmly through a broken window” and how could they see in the darkness, exactly in which parts of his body the unfortunate young man was shot?

The rich descriptiveness of the scene suggests fiction rather than objective reporting – which is surely what the Aftonbladet, like any respectable newspaper, aspires to offer its readers.

In similarly expressive prose, Boström describes the return of the body, which supposedly took place five days after the ambush and which he says he witnessed. “It was close to midnight when the motor roar from an Israeli military column sounded from the outskirts of Imatin, a small village in the northern parts of the West Bank. The two thousand inhabitants were awake. They were still, waiting, like silent shadows in the dark, some lying upon roofs, others hiding behind curtains, walls, or trees that provided protection during the curfew but still offered a full view toward what would become the grave for the first martyr of the village. The military had shut off the electricity and the area was now a closed-off military zone – not even a cat could move outdoors without risking its life.”

The discerning reader must be puzzled by all this. That “two thousand inhabitants were awake,” prompts the question, how did all the inhabitants know that there was going to be a funeral at midnight? Did the Israeli Army kindly announce the funeral? Also, most of the villagers in Samaria are hard-working folk, laboring in the fields and construction sites during the day. At night most of them sleep very deeply. But suddenly, for benefit of the story, they were all awake and hiding even on rooftops, behind walls and trees – despite the fact that, as Boström himself reports, “not even a cat could move outdoors without risking its life.” And despite the darkness they had “a full view.”

The whole melodramatic description is probably very convincing for any reader who has never been on any military night mission, and who can accept that the Israeli Army is run by a pack of fools. Assuming that organ harvesting is what the Israeli authorities had been up to, is it conceivable that they would have returned bodies in that condition to their families – if at all?

I cannot say whether or not Donald Boström actually witnessed what he reported, although his prose puts serious doubts in my mind. But then again, I am biased. Yet bias doesn’t necessarily disqualify the validity of my skepticism. However, to Boström’s credit, following the appearance of the article, he has admitted a number of times in interviews that he has no actual proof that the Israeli Army harvests Palestinians’ organs. This he said in an interview with Israel Radio August 19, 2009, and the Israeli daily, Haaretz, on November 4, 2009. In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, he said that he had not meant to imply that Israeli soldiers were killing Palestinians for their organs, and that “Even the Palestinians don’t say that. What they said is that when the Israeli army returned the bodies, 62 of them had been autopsied and 20 Palestinian families I spoke to were certain that their sons’ organs had been harvested.” He acknowledged he had not personally seen evidence of organ harvesting, since the bodies that were returned to the families were never examined to determine whether organs had been taken: “As far as I know no one examined the bodies. All I’m saying is that this needs to be investigated.”

At least Mr. Boström was able to admit he wasn’t sure about what he had written. It’s one of the hazards of journalism. When a juicy story comes your way, it is hard to not to get carried away and there just isn’t enough time to check every detail. Also, well-developed creative instincts that a writer must have, cloud one’s objectivity. The result is often misinformation, that adds to the nasty image that Israel projects nowadays. And it doesn’t help anyone. Not even the Arabs even though they might think it does.

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Entry filed under: Blogroll, dangeous lies and halftruths, How to avoid Armageddon, In order to survive, Solutions for Palestine, Things not mentioned in the press. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .


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