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Middle East
Israel opens organ theft hearing
Parliament debates testimony that government illegally harvested human organs.
Last Modified: 23 Dec 2009 16:51 GMT
Israel's parliament opened testimony on Wednesday over the organ theft allegations  [AP]

Israel's parliament has begun hearings on the theft of human organs from Palestinians, Israelis and foreign workers without their relatives' permission.

Israeli health officials testified on Wednesday that Israeli authorities harvested organs from the dead bodies of Israelis and Palestinians in the 1990s for transplant purposes.

The testimony came three days after the government admitted to the practice, following previous denials.

Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros, reporting from Jerusalem, said Wednesday's hearing was not the first time Israeli officials have had to face difficult questions in parliament about the organ theft issue.

"What we tended to see in the past was officials trying to skirt around the issue, really not wanting to confirm or deny that organ theft took place," she said.

"What we had on Wednesday was a very public admission by an Israeli official that organ theft was in fact taking place.

"But the health ministry said it was a practice that happened in the past and is no longer a problem."

Practice 'continuing'

However, Ahmed Tibi, an Israeli Palestinian member of parliament, told the assembly on Wednesday that he had evidence that organ theft was still taking place.

"You said that it was ended in the '90s. But Fadul Ordul Shaheen who was from Gaza passed away. He died of diabetes this year.  When his body was given back to his family, his eyes were bleeding and there was a deep cut through his body," he said.

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"The family is saying that both the corneas and the kidneys were taken.

"I am asking you if you're willing to look into this complaint and see if this activity is continuing, if organs are being harvested from Palestinian prisoners."

Yaacov Litzman, the Israeli deputy health minister, said he would investigate the case "with all seriousness" to determine if any wrongdoing was committed.

Tibi later told Al Jazeera that he would continue to pursue the health ministry for answers for the families of those who were affected.

'Highly informal'

The government's admission this week followed the release of an interview with Jehuda Huss, 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, said that she made the article public because of the controversy last summer over allegations of organ harvesting made by a Swedish newspaper.

In August the Aftonbladet newspaper ran an article alleging that the Israeli army had stolen body organs from Palestinian men after killing them.

Israel denied the claims, calling them anti-Semitic, and the incident raised tensions when Sweden refused to apologise for the article, saying that press freedom prevented it from intervening.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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