Sunday, September 06, 2009

medieval accusations

Countercurrents | The hyperventilating by Israel’s leaders [1] over a story published in a Swedish newspaper last month [2] suggesting that the Israeli army assisted in organ theft from Palestinians has distracted attention from the disturbing allegations made by Palestinian families that were the basis of the article’s central claim.

The families’ fears that relatives, killed by the Israeli army, had body parts removed during unauthorised autopsies performed in Israel have been overshadowed by accusations of a “blood libel” directed against the reporter, Donald Bostrom, and the Aftonbladet newspaper, as well as the Swedish government and people.

I have no idea whether the story is true. Like most journalists working in Israel and Palestine, I have heard such rumours before. Until Bostrom wrote his piece, no Western journalist, as far as I know, had investigated them. After so many years, the assumption by journalists was that there was little hope of finding evidence -- apart from literally by digging up the corpses. Doubtless, the inevitable charge of anti-semitism such reports attract acted as a powerful deterrent too.

What is striking about this episode is that the families making the claims were not given a hearing in the late 1980s and early 1990s, during the first intifada, when most of the reports occurred, and are still being denied the right to voice their concerns today.

Israel’s sensitivity to the allegation of organ theft -- or “harvesting”, as many observers coyly refer to the practice -- appears to trump the genuine concerns of the families about possible abuse of their loved ones.

Bostrom has been much criticised for the flimsy evidence he produced in support of his inflammatory story. Certainly there is much to criticise in his and the newspaper’s presentation of the report.

Most significantly, Bostrom and Aftonbladet exposed themselves to the charge of anti-semitism -- at least from Israeli officials keen to make mischief -- through a major error of judgment.

They muddied the waters by trying to make a tenuous connection between the Palestinian families’ allegations about organ theft during unauthorised autopsies and the entirely separate revelations this month that a group of US Jews had been arrested for money-laundering and trading in body parts. [3]

In making that connection, Bostrom and Aftonbladet suggested that the problem of organ theft is a current one when they have produced only examples of such concern from the early 1990s. They also implied, whether intentionally or not, that abuses allegedly committed by the Israeli army could somehow be extrapolated more generally to Jews.

The Swedish reporter should instead have concentrated on the valid question raised by the families about why the Israeli army, by its own admission, took away the bodies of dozens of Palestinians killed by its soldiers, allowed autopsies to be performed on them without the families’ permission and then returned the bodies for burial in ceremonies held under tight security.