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Tissue, Skin, Bone and Organ Harvesting at Israel's
National Forensic Institute
Body Parts and Bio-Piracy
By Nancy Scheper-Hughes
Exclusive CounterPunch Report
October 25, 2010

Editorial Note: Nancy Scheper-Hughes is professor of
anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley,
where she directs the doctoral program in medicine and
society. Since 1996, she has been involved in active
field research on the global traffic in human organs,
following the movement of bodies, body parts, transplant
doctors, their patients, brokers, and kidney sellers,
and the practices of organ and tissue harvesting in
several countries - from Brazil, Argentina, and Cuba, to
Moldova, Israel and Turkey, to India, South Africa, and
the United States. She is a co-founder of Organs Watch,
an independent, medical human rights, research and
documentation center at UC Berkeley.

What follows is her detailed report on the tissue, skin,
bone and organ harvesting conducted for many years at
Israel's L. Greenberg National Institute of Forensic
Medicine, a.k.a. The Abu Kabir Institute, under the
aegis of its former director and current chief
pathologist, Dr. Yehuda Hiss. Long before Donald Boström
leveled allegations of organ-harvesting from
Palestinians in the Swedish tabloid, Aftonbladet, in
August 2009, causing furious accusations of "blood
libel," Dr. Scheper-Hughes had already interviewed Dr.
Hiss and had on tape the interview that forms part of
her report here.

Dr. Scheper-Hughes says her purpose here is to refute
the controversial official statements of the Ministry of
Health and the IDF that while there may have been
irregularities at the National Forensic Institute, they
have long since ended. To this day, she says, they have
failed to acknowledge, punish, or rectify various
medical human rights abuses, past and present at the
National Forensic Institute. While many of the
allegations are widely known, the testimony by Israeli
state pathologist and IDF (reserve) Lt. Col. Chen Kugel
has never been published in English and his allegations
are known only within Israel. Dr. Scheper-Hughes invited
Dr. Kugel to speak publicly on this topic in the U.S. on
May 6, 2010.

There are three lawsuits ongoing in Israel at the
present moment concerning the Forensic Institute and Dr.
Hiss. Two concerns alleged abuses against the dead
bodies of Israeli citizens. The third concerns Rachel
Corrie, a U.S. citizen who was killed in Gaza in 2003
while protesting the demolition of houses. Transcripts
of court proceedings show that Corrie's autopsy was
conducted in contravention of an Israeli court order
that an official from the U.S. Embassy be present. These
transcripts also show Dr. Hiss conceding that he had
kept samples from Corrie's body without her family's
knowledge. Dr. Hiss also testified that he was uncertain
where these samples now are. For his part, Dr. Kugel
asserts that abuses at the Institute continue to this

The Scheper-Hughes article takes care to note Dr.
Kugel's description of his former mentor, Dr. Hiss, as
a man who saw himself as willing to take great personal
and professional risks "to serve a noble end. to help
the war-wounded victims of terrorist attacks," with his
actions "as something sublime, or even heroic, as a
modern-day Robin Hood." AC/JSC

In July 2009, I was identified as the "whistle-blower"
in the arrest by New Jersey FBI agents of a Brooklyn
organs trafficker, an orthodox rabbi, Isaac
Rosenbaum,1,2 whose unorthodox business activities I had
uncovered several years earlier while investigating an
international network of outlaw transplant surgeons,
their brokers, lawyers, kidney hunters, insurance and
travel agents, safe house operators, and "baby sitters"
to mind sick and anxious international "transplant
tourists." The particular criminal network, in which
Rosenbaum played a bit part, originated in Israel
through a "company" run by a well-known crime boss Ilan
Peri, who had over the years established shady
transplant deals and kidney transplant outlets and
connections in Turkey, Moldova, the Ukraine, Brazil,
Germany, South Africa, the Philippines, China, Kosovo,
Azerbaijan, Columbia, and the United States.3

The arrests, amidst gunfire in the operating rooms, of
two of Ilan Peri's transplant associates - Dr. Zaki
Shapira, formerly of Rabin Medical Center, Petach Tikva,
Israel, and his Turkish associate Dr. Yusuf Sonmez - in
a private hospital in Istanbul in 20074 gave pause to
the Israeli Ministry of Health which, until then, had
permitted Israeli sick funds (medical insurance) to
reimburse living donors overseas with transplants, many
of them trafficked from the former Soviet Union
countries. The kidney sellers captured in the Turkish
shootout, however, were two Palestinians, Omar Abu
Gaber, age 42, and Zaheda Mahammid, age 26. The organ
recipients were an Israeli man of 68, Zeev Vigdor, and a
younger South African man, John Richard Halford, who
were filmed on Turkish TV being carried out of the
operating room on stretchers and taken to another
hospital before being returned home, without the
transplants they had so desired.

After his release from a German prison in 2007, Peri
returned to Israel, where he was investigated for tax
fraud,5 detained, but released because Israel's organ-
transplant laws were murky with respect to the legality
of "brokering" overseas transplants using paid donors.
In 2008, two new laws were passed by the Israeli
Parliament (Knesset): one that paved the way for
applying brain death criteria that would satisfy the
ultraorthodox, and the other that outlaws buying,
selling and brokering organs for transplant.6 The
Ministry of Health no longer reimburses overseas
transplants unless they are legal. Peri continues to
organize transplant tours, but today, he claims, using
only deceased donor organs and legal pathways.

In its heyday (1997-2007), the Israeli transplant
tourism/organ-trafficking network was an ingenious and
extremely lucrative multimillion-dollar program that
supplied a few thousand Israeli patients and diasporic
Jews worldwide with the "fresh" organs and transplants
they needed. With Rosenbaum's arrest, the U.S. media
were suddenly interested in the Israeli-based
transplant-trafficking scheme, now that there was a
proven link to hospitals in New York City.

The NYC Commissioner of Health and the FBI, whom I
alerted years earlier about the Rosenbaum transplant
gang, had dismissed the information as lacking
credibility. How could patients and kidney sellers from
two different countries be smuggled into hospitals for
illegal transplants? How would they get through the red
tape required for any transplant operation? It sounded
like an old wives' tale, an urban legend, or a blood
libel against Jewish surgeons and their patients. And
that was the worst suspicion of all.

Although the criminal justice system refused to believe
the story I gave them, transplant surgeons working in
hospitals in the U.S. who had been approached by Ilan
Peri and his associates, including Isaac Rosenbaum, knew
it to be true and knew that some of their colleagues
were complicit in transplant crimes that ranged from
violating the National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA) in
the buying and selling organs, to fraud, deception,
money laundering, taking bribes, participating in
organized crime and human trafficking. The Rosenbaum
case, still in preparation, will be the first U.S.
federal prosecution of crimes related to organs

The Aftonbladet Story Breaks

Then, in August 2009, another organ-trafficking story
broke, one that linked Rosenbaum's U.S.-Israel organ-
brokering and money-laundering schemes with much older
allegations of organ-and-tissue stealing from the bodies
of Palestinian "terrorists" and stone throwers'
following autopsy at Israel's National Forensic
Institute in Abu Kabir, a neighborhood of Tel Aviv.
These allegations, dating back to the early 1990s, were
recycled by a Swedish journalist Donald Boström in a
left-leaning Swedish tabloid, Aftonbladet, on August 17,

Headlined "Our Sons Plundered for Their Organs,"
Boström's feature story was a mix of organ-theft
accusations, seemingly coincidental connections, and
political rhetoric. The information was based on
Boström's research in Israel and the Occupied
Territories during the first Intifada, and his award-
winning book, Inshallah,9 published in 2001, where
Bostrom first introduced the allegations of body
tampering and organ-and-tissue theft from Palestinian
dead brought for autopsy to the Abu Kabir Forensic
Institute. Boström's article suggested that Palestinian
bodies were being harvested as the "spoils of war."

The Aftonbladet story, instantly translated into Hebrew
and English, created a firestorm of protest that
included a libel lawsuit by anti-defamation lawyers in
New York City and a boycott of Swedish industries.
Boström was labeled an anti-Semite, and the story he
"dredged up from the sewer" was labeled a despicable
"blood libel" against Israel and the world's Jews.

I read these news reports with mounting dread. Like
Boström, I was once greeted during a research visit to
Israel in 2003 with an ugly headline and centerfold (
"New Blood Libel on French TV - Israel Steals Kidneys of
Orphan Children in Moldova") in Makor Rishon, a right-
wing tabloid.10 The feature story reviewed an hour-long
TV documentary by French filmmaker Catherine Bentellier,
Kidneys Worth their Weight in Gold. I had traveled with
the filmmaker to Moldova in 2001, where we interviewed
people in villages that had been ravaged by organs
traffickers targeting young men and trafficking them to
Turkey, the Ukraine and Georgia as paid, sometimes
coerced, kidney providers to Israeli transplant
patients. The "blood libel" accusation featured medieval
woodcuts and a blurry photo of me patting the hand of a
Moldovan orphan in his crib.

With respect to the Swedish "blood libel" against the
National Forensic Institute at Abu Kabir, the main issue
that wasn't raised in the avalanche of articles,
editorials, and news columns published in Israel, Europe
and the United States was one simple question, "Was the
organ theft story true?" And were there any grounds for
linking the tissue theft from the dead to the
organization of illicit transplant tours for Israeli
patients? Were there any grounds for linking the one
story with another?

Introducing Dr Yehuda Hiss

I knew the answer. In July 2000, while studying the
growth of organized transplant tours run by underworld
brokers in Israel, I conducted a formal, audiotaped
interview with the director of Israel's National
Forensic Institute, Dr. Yehuda Hiss, at Abu Kabir, in
which he openly and freely discussed the "informal"
procurement of organs and tissues from the bodies of the
dead brought to the Institute for examination and
autopsy. Hiss described a kind of "presumed" consent,
one invented by him and shared with no one except, by
example, with his medical students and residents and
interns. He pursued a quiet policy of aggressive tissue,
bone, skin, and organ harvesting, purportedly for the
greater good of his country, a country at war, and for
the good of his countryman. Professor Hiss, viewed by
many Israelis and by the New York Times as a hero
because of his service to the nation in handling bodies
killed by terrorists and suicide bombers, deemed his
behavior as patriotic. He was, in his own mind, not so
much "above the law," as representing the law, a much
higher law, his law, supremely cool, rational, and
scientifically and technically correct. The country was
at war, blood was being spilled everyday, soldiers were
being burned, and yet Israelis refused to provide
tissues and organs needed. So, he would take matters
into his own hands.

The taped interview was a smoking gun, but I feared the
unintended consequences of making it public. The tape
sat, more or less untouched, in my archives for ten
years. But now it was necessary to set the record
straight. But before I did so, I wanted to give
professor Hiss a chance to explain, or even to correct,
the things he had admitted to in the 2000 interview.
Prior to leaving for a research trip in September-
October 2009, accompanied by Dan Rather and his team for
a news report on the criminal networks built around
organ trafficking in Turkey, Moldova, and Israel, I
contacted Yehuda Hiss in Israel (through one of my
several Israeli research assistants) requesting a
follow-up interview.

The Ministry of Health thwarted his initial acceptance.
A private interview in his home was proposed, but Hiss
(and his lawyers) wanted to review beforehand any
questions I wished to raise. Then the Ministry of Health
denied Hiss permission to speak with me at all, under
any circumstances. While being interviewed about the
effects of the changes in transplant laws and practices,
several medical and transplant colleagues in Tel Aviv
and Jerusalem often interjected disparaging references
to the "despicable blood libel by the Swedish media,"
even though they knew full well - and knew that I knew -
that tucked inside Boström's tabloid story was a real
medical and political scandal of international
proportions. I understood their nervousness about the
topic, but not their denial of a known fact that was
being manipulated into a global political tool of the
Israeli government.

Just before returning to the United States, I met with
Meira Weiss, a distinguished anthropologist and former
professor at Hebrew University, and Chen Kugel, M.D., a
forensic pathologist who had worked side by side with
his mentor, Yehuda Hiss, at the Institute. Both Weiss
and Dr. Kugel urged me to write a rebuttal to those in
Israel who were "crying wolf" and using blood libel
accusations to bludgeon their critics into submission.
Weiss reminded me of the taped interview, done in 2000,
with Dr. Hiss, as she herself had arranged the interview
and was present during it, and she was as stunned as I
was at the boldness and arrogance of Hiss' revelations.
Chen Kugel, a military officer (reserve) and former
forensic pathologist at the Institute, agreed that the
truth should be told to the global community, though
perhaps not by them. Both had suffered enough. Both had
been forced out of their jobs.

My interview with Yehuda Hiss at the Institute had come
about in the following circumstances. In July 2000,
three years into the Organs Watch project, I was given a
file and a photo by an Israeli human rights lawyer,
Lynda Brayer, at her organization's headquarters in
Bethlehem. The Society of St. Yves was created to
provide legal assistance to Palestinian families, whose
relatives had suffered the demolition of their homes,
forced removals, and other abuses. The organization was
then representing the family of Abdel Karim Abdel
Musalmeh, who was shot in the head on November 8, 1995,
by IDF snipers. The single bullet that killed Abdel is
clearly indicated in the photo, which was part of the
autopsy record. A military order for the demolition of
Musalmeh's home in Beit Awa, a village outside of
Hebron, preceded his murder by the IDF as a "wanted
person on the run." The lawyers were arguing a case to
allow the home to stand, so that Abdel's widow and their
six children would not be homeless. If murder and
dispossession were not enough, Musalmeh's body was
returned to his wife in tatters. The autopsy report
attributed death by rifle shot to brain. Why, then, was
the body subjected to a total dissection and the removal
of cornea and skin? I agreed to look into it.

When I first shared this information and the graphic
photo with Meira Weiss, she reassured me at that time
that there was no organ or tissue harvesting at the
Institute. She had witnessed hundreds of autopsies - of
Israelis, Arabs, Arab-Israelis, Russian immigrants,
foreigners, and Palestinians. While bodies were opened
and organs examined, they were returned to the body,
except for small tissue samples as needed for forensic
examination in the laboratories above the morgue. There
were practices Weiss had observed that were not in
compliance with international codes of ethics and
internal law, the 1975 Helsinki Accords on the use of
human subjects.11 There were acts of deviance by certain
staff members. Tattoos, for example, were sometimes
removed with a knife from the bodies of new immigrants
to Israel, mostly Russian and Ukrainian, always suspect
of nor being Jewish enough. Tattoos gave them away, and
so they were treated with hostility. Penises might be
circumcised, postmortem, without the knowledge or
consent of relatives. The bodies of Jews and Muslims
were treated differently. When Palestinians were brought
in, following conflict, they were subjected to a
complete autopsy, as required to produce information for
the Palestinian Authority. On the other hand, the bodies
of Israeli soldiers were respected, and autopsies were
often discreet and partial.

Allegations About the Forensic Institute

The National Institute of Forensic Medicine at Abu
Kabir, a Tel Aviv suburb, is Israel's national
depository of dead bodies requiring identification,
examination, and autopsy. It serves two purposes, on the
one hand, as a scientific institute affiliated with the
Sackler School of Medicine (Tel Aviv University),
through which it operates a state-of-the-art genetics
laboratory. On the other hand, the Institute is
controlled and closely supervised by the chevra kadisha
- the orthodox religious organization has a virtual
monopoly on all burials in Israel, except for the
military. The Institute is a civil organization working
under the Ministry of Health. On the other hand, it is
an arm of the security police and the military.

The Institute is then both a traditional medical-legal
mortuary and, off the record, Israel's primary source of
tissues, bone, and skin needed for transplantation,
plastic surgery, research and medical teaching. The
illicit traffic in organs, tissues, bone and the
stockpiling of assorted body parts at the Institute is
what anthropologists call a public secret, something
that every one inside the society knows about but which
is never discussed, and certainly never admitted to
those outside the society. But, in fact, allegations and
official investigations of organ-and-tissue trafficking
at the Forensic Institute have been ongoing in Israel
since 1999 up to the present day. Yehuda Hiss has been,
off and on, the focus of public scrutiny. He has been
sued, and he has been decorated. He has been both
upbraided and rewarded, fired from his position as
director of the Institute, and given a new title, senior
pathologist, with a higher salary.

Allegations of Hiss' confiscation of organs, tissues and
other body parts date back to November 1999, with an
investigative report in the local Tel Aviv newspaper
Ha'ir, which stated that medical students under Hiss'
direction were allowed to practice on bodies sent to the
Institute at Abu Kabir for autopsy, and that body parts
were transferred for transplant and other medical uses
without permission from the families concerned. In 2000,
the newspaper Yediot Aharonot published a price list for
body parts that Hiss had sold to university researchers
and to medical schools. A committee of international
forensic experts was appointed by the Minister of Health
to investigate practices at the Institute. It took two
years for the investigation to be completed, during
which time, according to Hiss' former assistant and
protégé, Chen Kugel, much of the evidence was destroyed.
Nonetheless, according to Kugel, Hiss still had a huge
collection of body parts in his possession at Abu Kabir,
when the Israeli courts ordered a search in 2002. Israel
National News reported at the time, "Over the past
years, heads of the Institute appear to have given
thousands of organs for research without permission,
while maintaining a `storehouse' of organs at Abu
Kabir." Hiss was reprimanded but allowed to continue his
activities, which he defended as necessary for medicine,
for the defense of the Israeli state, and for the
advancement of science.

In 2005, new allegations of organs trafficking at Abu
Kabir surfaced, and Hiss admitted to having removed
parts from 125 bodies without authorization. Following a
plea bargain with the state, the attorney general
decided not to press criminal charges, and Hiss was
given only a reprimand, and he continues on as chief
pathologist at Abu Kabir, that is, the state of Israel's
official head pathologist. Illegal harvesting of bodies
was simultaneously prohibited and tolerated. Hiss was,
in fact, the state's answer to the chronic scarcity of
tissues and organs. He recognized the need produced by
the deep cultural reluctance of families to tamper with
the bodies of the dead, which allowed him to cross a
line and to do as he pleased with the bodies entrusted
to him.

Interviewing Dr Hiss

When I met professor Yehuda Hiss for the first and, as
it turned out, the only time, the pathologist struck me
as a formidable, frightening, and brilliant man. A
Polish immigrant to Israel, with striking blue eyes,
short beard, wiry body, and a tense, hypervigilant and
belligerent demeanor, he commands attention. The
interview took place on July 21, 2000, in Hiss' office
at the Institute, in the presence of a staff member and
Meira Weiss. We were all, I think, shocked by his
revelations. Hiss allowed the interview to be
audiotaped, but parts of our conversation were off the
record, and the tape was turned off at those moments.
What follows now is a transcription of the audiotape
pared down, some asides deleted.

YH: My name is Yehuda Hiss. I am a forensic specialist.
Here we do forensic medicine, as well as anatomical
pathology. I do both. The main issue, here, as compared
to other countries, is that [in Israel] we have only one
[forensic] Institute for the entire country. And it is
very conveniently located in the center of Israel, so
that the bulk of the population is located very near to
us..There are another twenty medical centers in various
places, each with its own department of pathology. But
very few complete autopsies are performed in Israel.

I began my training in anatomical pathology in 1974, in
Sheba (Tel Hashomer). We had only three residents, and
we would perform about 850 complete autopsies [each
year]. Today, there are 6-8 residents, and the hospital
that trains residents in anatomical pathology is three
times as big, but residents today perform only 40-50
mostly incomplete autopsies [per year]. So, this is
representative of what is going on in the state of
Israel. We did 800 per year 25 years ago with fewer
residents, and only 40-50 per year today with many more
resources. The only place where complete autopsies are
conducted in Israel happens to be here.

Now, about the question of harvesting organs - it's
strange. Not only here, in Israel, but elsewhere it all
depends on the personal approach of those in charge of
pathology or organs harvesting. In my case, when I was a
resident in Tel Hashomer - a hospital linked to the IDF
(Israeli Defense Forces) - we would collaborate with the
army and we would provide the army with grafted
(harvested) skin for burn victims, and, from time to
time, they would ask us for cornea. So, I would be
involved in it because I was in charge, with two others,
and we would provide this.

NS-H: Why cornea to the military?

YH: For injuries perhaps. Maybe it was easier [for the
military] to make this request of us, and, once we had
gotten permissions to perform - and the family agreed -
to the autopsy, we would take some skin and take the
cornea. For autopsy, we always had to ask permission of
the family, unless it was a court order [a criminal

NS-H: There is some resistance here, in Israel, to
autopsy - both Jewish and Arab - right?

YH: Yes. We did everything off the record, highly
informal. We never asked for the families' permission.

Then we started harvesting cornea for several Israeli
hospitals, initially for Tel Hashomer, because I had
friends there who knew me well. I suggested this to them
at various meetings. I was amazed because no one had
ever come to us to ask. Why are you not coming over to
us? I told them how it worked at Case Western Reserve
Hospital [in Cleveland]. So, then they started to come
from hospitals in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv. Everything was
done on a friendly basis between us and our colleagues
in various departments. I felt strongly that these
corneas should go to public patients and not to private
clinics. We were not paid for harvesting, but we
weregiven some donations, equipment that we needed.

Whatever was done here was off the record, highly
informal. We never asked permission of the family. But
we would harvest only from bodies that the family agreed
to allow an autopsy. So, we would never harvest where
there were objections to the autopsy.

NS-H: The law allows this?

YH: The law demands permissions for autopsy, but not for
harvesting. I read this in the law books..There was an
addendum to the law in 1981, that you should ask the
permission of the family - for autopsy.. We were free to
take skin from the back of legs. We took cornea. We
would not take cornea from those bodies where we
suspected that the families might want to open the
eyelids. There are some Orthodox and some Oriental
[Arab] families who open the eyelids and throw sand on
top of them. We knew whom to avoid. Also we only removed
the cornea, not as we did in Teleshemer [hospital], the
whole eyeball. And we would close and glue the eyelids,
and we would cover any place where we had removed
something. And, similarly, we would take [skin] only
from the back of the legs. In the beginning of the
1990s, we began to take some long bones from the legs.
Then we were asked for cardiac valves, and we did a few
of them, because of the lack of collaboration between us
and major thoracic departments. Then, beginning in 1995,
we started to do it more formally. It was done according
to a certain list of priorities, established by various
medical centers and specific departments. It was done as
a kind of semi-legal thing. At that point, we would
inform the Ministry of Health. Before that time [1995],
it was only between me/the Institute and the various
departments and medical centers - informally. Later, we
decided that it should be done through the Ministry of

NS-H: Your chief is the Minister of Health, but you were
free to do quite a lot without any interference from

YH: Yes, correct, but there are things that really
should be done with some instruction and through the
Ministry of Health. It was unclear for many years.

NS-H: In some countries of Latin America, the IMF
[Forensic Institutes] is under the jurisdiction of the
police, but in others, like Cuba, it is under the
Ministry of Health. In the old South Africa, it was
under the military police - and here?

YH: Independence is very important. This institution was
established in 1954 under the auspices of the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem. Then, in the early 1970s, it
came under the police department. Then, in 1975 or '76,
it came under the Ministry of Health. We are now part of
the Ministry of Health, and the director-general of the
ministry is our boss, but we are actually completely
independent. Until a few years ago, all medical centers
were under the Ministry of Health, but in the late 1990s
they have become independent. There are only a few still
directly under the Ministry of Health. Since then, they
are more interested in what we are doing here and in our
capacities [to harvest tissues], and so we now get more
demands and we feel that it should be regulated. We want
to be on record, too, for the various costs that are
involved in the harvesting of skin and cornea, bones,
pulmonary values and so forth. . But until then, this
was just between us and the various hospitals that we
serviced, but we wanted there to be some control over

NS-H: How were the prices set?

YH: In 1996, we made up a list of the various medical
services that we provided, a list of hundreds or
thousands of shekels - there were expenses that we
wanted to recoup. We would collaborate only with public
hospitals. On one occasion, about ten years ago, there
was a case of a head of a department who used one or two
corneas donated to the hospital from a pathology
Institute - and he used them for his private patients.
This is the only case known to me - where tissue donated
for general use was used privately. Since 1998, because
of popular pressure, there was a sharp decline in
autopsies, and we were made to ask permission of all
families for autopsy and for harvesting, or for
dissection, or for training of military medical
students. It was all because a man went to the
newspapers just recently to scream that his son, who
died in military service, was used for medical
experimentation and medical training. And a furor
resulted in the country and permissions for autopsies
declined. Since then - about two years ago [1998] - we
were told to ask permission for everything. [This is a
reference to the late Sergeant Zeev Buzaglo of the
Golani Brigade, who was killed in a training accident in
April 1997. When his father, Dr. Haim Buzaglo, a
pediatrician, came to see his son's body, he saw that it
had been harmed at the Institute - NS-H].

NS-H: Why [is] the military [involved in this]?

YH: There is a special relationship between the
Institute and the army because of the current political
situation in Israel. All Israelis feel that we all have
an obligation to help out in some way, and because we
all served in the army, we all have a personal stake in
the army ever after. We are all linked to the army. And
because of this, we took it for granted. We never asked.
We thought it was part of the duty of all Israelis to

YH [pointing out data from his files]: Look, here is the
data. Since January-April we received here 705 bodies.
Of these, 500 were not suitable for harvesting. Either
the bodies were too decomposed, or because of
infections. Only 175 were adequate for harvesting. We
called all of them, and 98 refused. Twelve we could not
locate the next of kin. Only 65 out of them agreed. So,
I would say we have an acceptance rate of less than one-

When we cannot find the next of kin, we do not harvest
by law. Originally, the law required only that we inform
the family that harvesting is going to take place. Now,
we not only inform, we have to ask them for permission.
So, because of this one bad incident, the backlash is
overriding the Parliament and the law of the land.

[Here NS-H explains how in some states in the U.S. there
is "presumed" consent for cornea harvesting, as in
California, but most people were totally unaware that it
was going on. The law was more or less kept a secret.]

YH: Yes, this was our policy for many years, and then
one case, one bad scandal, and it is all over for us.
Now, young military medical personnel no longer can get
the training they need and, when they are sent to
Lebanon or to the Palestinian territories - and there
are injuries, they have to intervene without proper
training, so that they are actually experimenting on
living soldiers. That is what all this has brought us.
No previous experience, no training whatsoever with the
human body. They have to practice [surgery] on dogs -
but never on humans! This is an absurdity! I would not
want anyone to perform a tracheotomy or colostomy on me
without any previous experience or training. Would you?
Today, they do virtual training on computerized bodies
and so on, but it's not the same thing.

NS-H: So, no biotech firms that want your material?

YH: In Israel, 100 per cent of the skin harvested goes
to Hadassah Hospital's skin bank - it is for military
purposes only - no biotech firms have access. There is
another skin bank in the south of the country, to which
the Institute is not linked - but I know that if
something happens - if one of the burn centers need skin
for a private patient, say, they can take skin from the
Hadassah skin bank, but they have to repay it.
Logistically, we are only linked to Hadassah.

Since six months ago, we have a new man working with us
downstairs, who is a kind of mortuary assistant, and he
is harvesting skin, bones, cornea, and bones. Before
him, there was only an arrangement with the army - they
used to send us here every week a plastic surgeon, who
would come here to harvest skin for the skin bank in
Hadassah. This lasted for many years. More than 12 or 13
years he did this. Since 1987-1988, every other week, a
plastic surgeon would come here to harvest skin. But now
we no longer have this direct relationship with the army
since this latest scandal. Now, we have our own mortuary
assistant, who is paid to harvest for us all the skin,
bone, cornea, etc., that is needed. He helps out in
other activities as well.

NS-H: When you ask permission, do some say you can take
this and not that organ?

YH: Some say do not touch the heart or the brain - some
are afraid you might want to take the skin. But it is
not like you are skinning a rabbit or something, and we
say, no, it is not like that - it is gentle, there is no
blood - we are not peeling the skin off. It is not like
scalping a person. We take only a superficial layer off
- from the back and the legs. And we tell them, too,
that we are only taking the thin tissue [from the eye]
and not the globe.

In order to fulfill both Jewish and Muslim laws about
the disposal of the dead, everything is done
immediately. We start working here at about 6 in the
morning. By 7 a.m., we have the whole list of all the
bodies that are going to be coming in that day. Only
some of these are going to be autopsied. And then this
person here draws up a list about what will be done to
whom. And then we are on the phone.

NS-H: Are there special techniques for how to present
this request to people?

Staff member: We have to know how to read people.

YH: - Yes, but this is not for me. From the very
beginning, I said, "Please free me from this! I cannot
possibly talk to people about these things." I am not
patient like this.

Staff member: He loves the dead. But not the living!

YH: Yes, I switched to forensics from clinical medicine
because I wanted the patients to shut up already! So, we
say that X will do it - but she is too busy - and,
really, we need a social worker to do this .

NS-H: Any other body parts taken - like pituitary

YH: When I was a medical resident, we would take
pituitary glands. Today, we have chemical substitutes,
but when I was a resident, I used to rush to the
refrigerator to deposit pituitary glands in a bottle
with water. I would collect them - sure, of course!
Also, tiny bones from inside the ear - these are very
good for some surgical procedures. We would do this
about twice a year.

NS-H: Some of these small bones were used for training
NASA astronauts for space travel, and its effects on
balance? And what about transnational sales?

YH: You can buy cornea from Russia for $300 each, I
think.. In Moscow, you can get a kidney for $20,000 and
cornea for a few dollars, because they really don't
care. At every autopsy, they take what they want, and
they have a tremendous stockpile of organs that they can
draw on. They have skin and cornea. In some large
medical centers in Russia, you can get fresh kidney that
they get from auto accidents - and in Turkey as well.
So, in both places you can get transplanted organs for
just $20,000 - including the kidney - because they have
a stockpile of them. I know because I was part of a
transplant procurement organization, and we studied
this. It is very cheap. It is well done by very good
surgeons there. In fact, there is a surplus of kidneys
in Russia. They have surplus because fewer people there
can afford transplants.

NS-H: There is some doubt about whether Russia was using
the international standards for determining brain death.

YH: Yes, sometimes our surgeons would accompany our
Israeli patients to Russia, and they would perform the
surgery there and the kidney was from a Russian. The
surgery would be performed by Israeli doctors in Russia,
with Russian kidneys. Some are leading transplant
surgeons from Israel...

NS-H: Yes, transplant tourism, some of this has been
reported in the newspapers.

YH: Right. They would go once a month for a few days and
would perform five or six surgeries there, and the
patient would come back here to recuperate.

NS-H: The UCSF medical ethics board decided that if
people who want to break the law and travel to China or
the Philippines to be transplanted, then we will not
provide you with follow-up care - you can go to a
private institution.

YH: Many things in Israel are done on a personal basis
and through connections. I think that in Israel
everything should be as equitable as possible. One
should not have to depend on connections or money. If
advertising and the media would only persuade the
Israeli population to donate organs from deceased
victims from trauma. [ and even though there is nothing
in Talmudic law against organ harvesting from the dead],
a religious family will find a rabbi who will agree with
them. I try to tell them how important it is to donate,
and they will say, "I need to discuss this with my
rabbi" - and nine times out of ten they come back with a
negative answer. That is, the answer that they want..

Dr Chen Kugel, Whistleblower

As can be seen from the transcript, Hiss readily
admitted to the non-consensual, informal tissue, skin,
bone and organ harvesting to serve the needs of the
country. Until he arrived in 1987 as chief pathologist
at the Forensic Institute, there was no organ or tissue
harvesting. He explained to his staff that this practice
was common elsewhere in the world, in the U.S., at Case
Western Reserve, where he had studied, and in other
forensic Institutes he had visited. It was a "presumed
consent" without the backing of the population, or the
law. Although it was in violation of tissue and organs
laws, Hiss thought it could be justified for a war-torn
and traumatized country like Israel. Hiss admitted that
the organs-and-tissue harvesting was "informal" and its
legality unclear. From his perspective as a state
pathologist, little harm was done by the careful removal
of some organs that would never be missed by the
deceased and about which the family would never have to
know. Medical students in military training were brought
into the morgue after Hiss and his team completed their
legally mandated autopsies, to be trained in the removal
of organs.

After my tape was released in Israel, on December 19,
2009, to Israeli TV's Channel 2, government officials
for the army and the Ministry of Health admitted that
organs and tissues were harvested from the dead bodies
of both Palestinians and Israelis throughout the 1990s,
but that the practice ended in 2000. Dr. Hiss, however,
publicly denied everything on tape - including his words
to me. Today, he says that he denies it all - the
stockpiling of body parts, the perjury, and the organ
harvesting. He denies everything. He says that
everything was all done in agreement with and by law,
and that families consented to harvest for
transplantation. No organs were taken for studies, he
said, none at all.

In May 2010, Dr. Chen Kugel and Meira Weiss spoke at a
special conference I organized at the University of
California, before a working group of experts, including
anthropologists, transplant surgeons, pathologists,
detectives, prosecutors, and human rights activists.

Chen Kugel, the unheralded and original (unnamed outside
of Israel) whistle-blower on the Forensic Institute,
said that the situation was much worse than what Yehuda
Hiss admitted in his interview with me in 2000. Kugel's
comments stand as a first-person account from a military
officer and a forensic pathologist. When he returned to
Israel to work at the Forensic Institute in 2000, after
several years in the United States, where he was working
in various hospitals and forensic programs, he says he
immediately realized that something was terribly wrong.
He tried to address the problems with three medical
residents, and with them together to have a meeting with
the director. Kugel was the spokesperson, and he told
Hiss that it was wrong to harvest organs and tissues
without permission, and that "giving false evidence in
court is also not okay." This went nowhere, and so the
group wrote a letter of complaint to the Ministry of
Health, outlining the illegalities. The Ministry of
Health reacted with alacrity: they fired the three
residents and punished Kugel, who, as a military officer
working for the IDF, could not be fired. Then they went
to the media and spilled the entire story about what
exactly was going on.

Kugel: "Organs were sold to anyone"

In fact, according to Kugel, "Organs were sold to
anyone; anyone that wanted organs just had to pay for
them." While skin, heart valves, bones, and corneas were
removed and used for transplants, solid organs - hearts,
brains, livers - "were sold for research, for
presentations, for drills for medical students and

There was a price for these organs, low - $ 300 for a
femur, for example - and should a client want all the
organs from a body, that could be arranged, not the body
itself, but all the organs removed and sold, Kugel said,
for about $2,500.

Amid the uproar prompted by the whistle-blowers, Hiss
waged his own media campaign and tried to convince the
public that everything that was done was to serve a
noble end, to help the war-wounded victims of terrorist
attacks, and the sick. He presented his conduct, in Dr.
Kugel's descripton, "as something sublime or even
heroic, as a modern-day Robin Hood. Taking from the dead
and giving to the innocent victims."

So, whom were the organs taken from? Kugel asked
rhetorically. The answer was they were taken from
everyone, from Jews and Muslims, from soldiers and from
stone throwers, from terrorists and from the victims of
terrorist suicide bombers, from tourists and from
immigrants. There were only two considerations - the
physical condition of the body and its organs, and the
ability to conceal what they were doing.

Most of the victims of illegal organ harvesting,
according to Kugel, were not even subject to autopsy,
they were simply harvested. They hid the damage by
putting pipes and glass eyes, and broom sticks, and
toilet paper and plastic skull caps to cover the place
where the brain was removed, and so on. The Institute,
Kugel said, was counting on one thing: that most
Israelis do not view the body after death except once,
to verify that the body is the right one. The body is
wrapped in a winding sheet, or might be wrapped in
plastic sheets for the burial company to come for it. In
that case, the staff would warn the burial employees,
who were not well educated, not to open the sheet
because the body was contaminated with an infectious
disease. It was more difficult to take organs from
soldiers because their bodies were supervised by the
military, which was more difficult to fool. "But organs
were taken from soldiers," Kugel said. It was easier to
take tissues and organs from the new immigrants, and,
needless to say, easiest of all to take from the
Palestinians. They would be going back across the
border, and, "if there were any complaints coming from
their families, they were the enemy and so, of course,
they were lying and no one would believe them".

What Kugel found most amazing was the uproar around the
Boström article, when there was abundant detail in the
Israeli press about the Institute whose affairs were
discussed heatedly by commissions, finding blatant
evidence of illegalities despite the attempts to destroy
all the evidence. After these things were exposed, it
took two years for the judge, or the head of the special
inquest, to decide whether or not Hiss should be sued.
Then, it took the police two years to begin a serious
investigation. The end result was that Hiss was removed
as director of the Institute but, as previously noted,
retained as senior pathologist and given a salary
increase. Kugel was dismissed from his post because,
during the investigation, he spoke with one of the
witnesses who had buried evidence - human body parts -
and thus was seen as interfering with the trial. He was
censored and blacklisted from teaching at all but one of
Israel's universities. To Dr. Kugel the prime issue had
nothing at all to do with science: it was about
disrespect, about hoarding body specimens, about turning
the Institute into a factory of bodies. The Institute's
conduct was motivated by money, by power, and by
authoritarian paternalism of the sort that says, "We
know what's good for you, we'll decide what happens to
you, the person who doesn't know anything. We'll
decide." And that's the reason why that happened, and
Dr. Kugel asserts it is happening to this day.

Questions About Rachel Corrie's Autopsy

On March 14, 2010, the Haifa District Court heard
testimony in the civil law suit filed by the family of
the slain U.S. citizen and Gaza peace activist, Rachel
Corrie, against the State of Israel for her unlawful
killing in Rafah, Gaza. Corrie, an American college
student and human rights activist, was crushed to death
on March 16, 2003, by a Caterpillar D9R bulldozer.
During the hearing, Dr. Hiss, who conducted the autopsy
of Rachel Corrie at the request of the Israeli military,
admitted that he had violated an Israeli court order
that required an official from the U.S. Embassy to be
present as a witness. Hiss stated that it was his policy
not to allow anyone who is not a physician or a
biologist to observe autopsy. Hiss admitted that he had
retained samples of tissues and organs from Corrie's
body for examination and testing without informing the
Corrie family. Hiss was uncertain about whether the
samples had been buried with other body samples from the
Institute. Corrie's parents, Cindy and Craig, were
shocked by these chilling admissions and really do not
know quite what to make of them or what, if anything,
they should do about it. They are seeking, they told me,
only the truth and symbolic damages of $1.00. The
prevention of harm to others is, they say, far more
important than money.

Finally, what links the story of Yehuda Hiss at the
National Forensic Institute and Isaac Rosenbaum and the
international network of organs traffickers in Israel?
Perhaps only the same sad fact that hysteria about
organs scarcities - whatever that chilling phrase evokes
- have driven both the medical abuses of the dead and
the medical abuses of those who were trafficked to
service transplant tourists from Israel to New York
City, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, among other sites.
When Dr. Zaki Shapira began putting out feelers for
kidney sellers in the early 1990s to serve the needs of
his transplant patients at Bellinson Hospital in Tel
Aviv, he found them close at hand, Palestinian guest
workers. Palestinians were, he told me in Bellagio in
1996 at a conference on organ trafficking, "pre-
disposed" to sacrifice their organs. Or, perhaps, to be
sacrificed. It works both ways. CP

Nancy Scheper-Hughes is the author of several books on
poverty and health, including Death without Weeping: the
Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil - listed by
CounterPunch in its top 100 non-fiction books published
in English in the 20th Century. She can be reached at:
[log in to unmask]


[1]. N. Mozgovaya, US Professor is whistle blower in
Rosenbaum arrest. Haaretz 26 July, 2009.

[2]. M. Daly Anthropologist's `Dick Tracy moment' plays
role in arrest of suspected kidney trafficker. New York
Daily News 24 July 2009.

[3] Nancy Scheper-Hughes,2008,"Illegal Organ Trade:
Global Justice and the Traffic in Human Organs" in
Living Donor Organ Transplants, edited by Rainer
Grussner,M.D. and Enrico Bendetti, MD. New York: McGraw-
Hill; N. Scheper-Hughes,2006,"Kidney bKin: Inside the
Transatlantic Kidney Trade", Harvard International
Review (winter) 62-65; "N. Scheper-Hughes, (2004) "Parts
Unknown: Undercover Ethnography in the Organ
Trafficking Underworld", Ethnography 5(1): 29-73; N.
Scheper-Hughes,2000, The Global Traffic in Organs,
Current Anthropology 4192): 191-224

[4] "Israeli doctor said detained in Turkey for illegal
organ transplants. Three other Israelis said detained,
including 2 alleged kidney donors and a recipient;15
people held." Haaretz News Service, January 1, 2007.

[5] In several detailed email exchanges (2006-2008) from
a criminal lawyer (name withheld on request) I learned
that the government of Israel decided to pursue the
international crimes of transplant surgeons and brokers
operating out of Israel by means tax fraud

[6] http://www.health.gov.il/trans" plant/about_adi.html
"Knesset approves new organ donation law", http//

[7] United States District Court of New Jersey: criminal
complaint: United States of America v. Levy Izhak
Rosenbaum, : Mag. No. 09-3620 a/k/a "Issac Rosenbaum",
July 2009

[8] English translation of Donald Bostrom's article
can be found at:

[9] Donald Boström, 2001. Inshallah : konflikten
mellan Israel och Palestina. Stockholm: Ordfront.

[10] Zeev Galilee, 2003. First Source (Makor Rishon)
-"Pangs of Conscience" (Musar Klayot) New Blood Libel
on French Television: Israel Steals Kidneys of Orphan
Children in Moldavia, 24 October 2003.

[11] Meira Weiss, personal communication and paper read
at Organs Watch conference combating traffic in organs
and tissues, UCBerkeley, May 7, 2010.


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