While this subject is treated as a “blood libel” it is undeniably true, like the ritual murders that Jews call a “blood libel.” A lot of effort and energy is spent discounting it but the evidence is there for all to see, across continents, oceans and cultures, Israelis are there, in an international crime ring for organ harvesting. It isn’t libel if it is true, and as you will see below, there is just too much evidence to pretend otherwise.
If a Jew needs a liver, can you take the liver of an innocent non-Jew passing by to save him? The Torah would probably permit that. Jewish life has infinite value. There is something infinitely more holy and unique about Jewish life than non-Jewish life.
– Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh, a leader of the Lubavitch sect of Judaism and the dean of a religious Jewish school in a West Bank, Jewish Week, 1996 settlement
Infamous Chief Pathologist to Once Again Evade Punishment
26 Sept., 2005 Israel National News (Arutz Sheva)
According to the arrangement, the prosecution will request that Prof. Hiss receive only a reprimand for his involvement in the unauthorized removal of parts from 125 bodies. In exchange, Hiss will admit to the acts. The plea bargain is subject to the approval of the court. In all of the 125 cases, Dr. Hiss and his subordinates removed organs, bones and tissue without the permission of, and in many cases, against the expressed wishes of the families of the deceased.
According to evidence submitted in the past, Abu Kabir had a “museum of skulls” set up by Dr. Hiss that included the skulls of IDF soldiers that had been shot in the head. He has also been investigated for selling organs and falsifying testimony.
Hiss was fired from his position as Director of the institute shortly after the courts became involved in allegations against him, but has remained the Chief Pathologist at the Institute.
This is not the first time that Hiss has escaped legal consequences for his actions. Former Attorney-General Elyakim Rubenstein aroused objections from several directions when he ruled that Hiss should not be charged with criminal behavior, even though he provided “expert testimony” about autopsies at which he had not been present and used tissues and organs after autopsies without permission from the families of the deceased.
In July 2002, while Hiss was under police investigation for suspicions including the removal of organs from 81 deceased persons without familial consent, the Supreme Court rejected a petition by the Movement for Quality in Government (MQG) demanding his suspension.
Dr. Hiss’ name has turned up repeatedly in relation to controversial events in Israel’s history, including the investigations into the Israeli government’s involvement in taking Yemenite children away from their parents in the 1950s, putting them up for adoption and the telling the parents that the children had died.
Hiss has also been the subject of controversy regarding the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin.
Accusation of Organ Theft Stokes Ire in Israel
23 Aug. 2009 New York Times
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel urged the Swedish government on Sunday to condemn an article in a Swedish newspaper last week accusing the Israeli Army of harvesting organs from Palestinians wounded or killed by soldiers.
“We are not asking the government of Sweden for an apology,” Mr. Netanyahu said, according to an official who attended the cabinet meeting and who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We are asking for their condemnation. We are not asking from them anything we do not ask of ourselves.”
Mr. Netanyahu made his comments behind closed doors, but other Israeli ministers have publicly attacked the Swedish government’s refusal to take an official stand against the article. Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s outspoken foreign minister, has led the protest, saying that the Swedish government’s silence was “reminiscent of Sweden’s position during World War II, when it also did not become involved.”
Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli finance minister, said: “Whoever does not distance himself from a blood libel such as this may not be so welcome now in Israel. We have a crisis until the government of Sweden understands otherwise.”
Sweden currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, and its foreign minister, Carl Bildt, is scheduled to visit Israel next month.
Mr. Bildt has rejected Israeli calls for an official condemnation of the article. Explaining his position, he wrote in a blog post late Thursday that freedom of expression was part of the Swedish Constitution, according to The Associated Press.
The article, by the Swedish journalist Donald Bostrom, ran on an inside page of the newspaper on Aug. 17. It was based on accusations Mr. Bostrom heard from Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in the 1990s, and which he published in a book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2001. Mr. Seaman said Mr. Bostrom last worked here in 2006.
Mr. Bostrom apparently revived the allegations by linking them to the July arrests of 44 people in New Jersey in a major corruption and international money laundering conspiracy that included several assemblymen, mayors and rabbis. One of its members, Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum, faces charges of conspiring to broker the illegal sale of a human kidney for transplant.
Aftonbladet followed up on Sunday with an article about one of the Palestinian families at the center of the original accusations.
Israeli Organ Harvesting
28 Aug. 2009 Counterpunch
Last week Sweden’s largest daily newspaper published an article containing shocking material: testimony and circumstantial evidence indicating that Israelis may have been harvesting internal organs from Palestinian prisoners without consent for many years.
Worse yet, some of the information reported in the article suggests that in some instances Palestinians may have been captured with this macabre purpose in mind.
In the article, “Our sons plundered for their organs,” veteran journalist Donald Bostrom writes that Palestinians “harbor strong suspicions against Israel for seizing young men and having them serve as the country’s organ reserve – a very serious accusation, with enough question marks to motivate the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to start an investigation about possible war crimes.”1/
An army of Israeli officials and apologists immediately went into high gear, calling both Bostrom and the newspaper’s editors “anti-Semitic.” The Israeli foreign minister was reportedly “aghast” and termed it “a demonizing piece of blood libel.” An Israeli official called it “hate porn.”
Commentary magazine wrote that the story was “merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of European funded and promoted anti-Israel hate.” Numerous people likened the article to the medieval “blood libel,” (widely refuted stories that Jews killed people to use their blood in religious rituals). Even some pro-Palestinian writers joined in the criticism, expressing skepticism.
The fact is, however, that substantiated evidence of public and private organ trafficking and theft, and allegations of worse, have been widely reported for many years. Given such context, the Swedish charges become far more plausible than might otherwise be the case and suggest that an investigation could well turn up significant information.
Below are a few examples of previous reports on this topic.
Israel’s first heart transplant
Israel’s very first, historic heart transplant used a heart removed from a living patient without consent or consulting his family.
In December 1968 a man named Avraham Sadegat (the New York Times seems to give his name as A Savgat) (2) died two days after a stroke, even though his family had been told he was “doing well.”
After initially refusing to release his body, the Israeli hospital where he was being treated finally turned the man’s body over to his family. They discovered that his upper body was wrapped in bandages; an odd situation, they felt, for someone who had suffered a stroke.
When they removed the bandages, they discovered that the chest cavity was stuffed with bandages, and the heart was missing.
During this time, the headline-making Israeli heart transplant had occurred. After their initial shock, the man’s wife and brother began to put the two events together and demanded answers.
The hospital at first denied that Sadegat’s heart had been used in the headline-making transplant, but the family raised a media storm and eventually applied to three cabinet ministers. Finally, weeks later and after the family had signed a document promising not to sue, the hospital admitted that Sadagat’s heart had been used.
The hospital explained that it had abided by Israeli law, which allowed organs to be harvested without the family’s consent. (3) (The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime includes the extraction of organs in its definition of human exploitation.)
Indications that the removal of Sadagat’s heart was the actual cause of death went unaddressed.
Director of forensic medicine on missing organs
A 1990 article in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs entitled “Autopsies and Executions” by Mary Barrett reports on the grotesque killings of young Palestinians. It includes an interview with Dr. Hatem Abu Ghazalch, the former chief health official for the West Bank under Jordanian administration and director of forensic medicine and autopsies.
Barrett asks him about “the widespread anxiety over organ thefts which has gripped Gaza and the West Bank since the intifada began in December of 1987.”
There are indications that for one reason or another, organs, especially eyes and kidneys, were removed from the bodies during the first year or year and a half. There were just too many reports by credible people for there to be nothing happening. If someone is shot in the head and comes home in a plastic bag without internal organs, what will people assume? (4)
Mysterious Scottish death
In 1998 a Scot named Alisdair Sinclair died under questionable circumstances while in Israeli custody at Ben Gurion airport.
His family was informed of the death and, according to a report in J Weekly, “…told they had three weeks to come up with about $4,900 to fly Sinclair’s corpse home. [Alisdair’s brother] says the Israelis seemed to be pushing a different option: burying Sinclair in a Christian cemetery in Israel, at a cost of about $1,300.”
The family scraped up the money, brought the body home, and had an autopsy performed at the University of Glasgow. It turned out that Alisdair’s heart and a tiny throat bone were missing. At this point the British Embassy filed a complaint with Israel.
The J report states:
A heart said to be Sinclair’s was subsequently repatriated to Britain, free of charge. James wanted the [Israeli] Forensic Institute to pay for a DNA test to confirm that this heart was indeed their brother’s, but the Institute’s director, Professor Jehuda Hiss refused, citing the prohibitive cost, estimated by some sources at $1,500.
Despite repeated requests from the British Embassy for the Israeli pathologist’s and police reports, Israeli officials refused to release either. (5,6,7)
Israeli government officials raise questions
Palestinian journalist Khalid Amayreh reports in an article in CCUN:
In January, 2002, an Israeli cabinet minister tacitly admitted that organs taken from the bodies of Palestinian victims might have been used for transplants in Jewish patients without the knowledge of the Palestinian victims’ families.
The minister, Nessim Dahan, said in response to a question by an Arab Knesset member that he couldn’t deny or confirm that organs of Palestinian youths and children killed by the Israeli army were taken out for transplants or scientific research.
“‘I couldn’t say for sure that something like that didn’t happen.’”
Amayreh writes that the Knesset member who posed the question said that he “had received ‘credible evidence proving that Israeli doctors at the forensic institute of Abu Kabir extracted such vital organs as the heart, kidneys, and liver from the bodies of Palestinian youth and children killed by the Israeli army in Gaza and the West Bank. (8)
Israel’s chief pathologist removed from post for stealing body parts
For a number of years there were allegations that Israel’s leading pathologist was stealing body parts. In 2001 the Israeli national news service reported:
… the parents of soldier Ze’ev Buzgallo who was killed in a Golan Heights military training accident, are filing a petition with the High Court of Justice calling for the immediate suspension of Dr. Yehuda Hiss and that criminal charges be filed against him. Hiss serves as the director of the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute…. According to the parents, the body of their son was used for medical experimentation without their consent, experiments authorized by Hiss. (9)
In 2002 the service reported:
The revelation of illegally stored body parts in the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute has prompted MK Anat Maor, chairman of the Knesset Science Committee, to demand the immediate suspension of the director, Prof. Yehuda Hiss.
Alisdair Sinclair’s death had first alerted authorities to Hiss’s malfeasance in 1998, though nothing was done for years. The Forward reported:
In 2001, an Israeli Health Ministry investigation found that Hiss had been involved for years in taking body parts, such as legs, ovaries and testicles, without family permission during autopsies, and selling them to medical schools for use in research and training. He was appointed chief pathologist in 1988. Hiss was never charged with any crime, but in 2004 he was forced to step down from running the state morgue, following years of complaints. (10)
Harvesting kidneys from impoverished communities
According to the Economist, a kidney racket flourished in South Africa between 2001 and 2003.
Donors were recruited in Brazil, Israel and Romania with offers of $5,000-20,000 to visit Durban and forfeit a kidney. The 109 recipients, mainly Israelis, each paid up to $120,000 for a “transplant holiday”; they pretended they were relatives of the donors and that no cash changed hands. (11)
In 2004 a legislative commission in Brazil reported, “At least 30 Brazilians have sold their kidneys to an international human organ trafficking ring for transplants performed in South Africa, with Israel providing most of the funding.”
According to an IPS report: “The recipients were mostly Israelis, who receive health insurance reimbursements of 70,000 to 80,000 dollars for life-saving medical procedures performed abroad.”
The Brazilians were recruited in Brazil’s most impoverished neighbourhoods and were paid $10,000 per kidney, “but as ‘supply’ increased, the payments fell as low as 3,000 dollars.” The trafficking had been organized by a retired Israeli police officer, who said “he did not think he was committing a crime, given that the transaction is considered legal by his country’s government.”
The Israeli embassy issued a statement denying any participation by the Israeli government in the illegal trade of human organs but said it did recognize that its citizens, in emergency cases, could undergo organ transplants in other countries, “in a legal manner, complying with international norms,” and with the financial support of their medical insurance.
However, IPS reports that the commission chair termed the Israeli stance “at the very least ‘anti-ethical’, adding that trafficking can only take place on a major scale if there is a major source of financing, such as the Israeli health system.” He went on to state that the resources provided by the Israeli health system “were a determining factor” that allowed the network to function. (12)
Tel Aviv hospital head promotes organ trafficking
IPS goes on to report:
Nancy Scheper-Hughes, who heads the Organs Watch project at the U.S. University of California, Berkeley, testified to the Pernambuco legislative commission that international trafficking of human organs began some 12 years ago, promoted by Zacki Shapira, former director of a hospital in Tel Aviv.
Shapira performed more than 300 kidney transplants, sometimes accompanying his patients to other countries, such as Turkey. The recipients are very wealthy or have very good health insurance, and the ‘donors’ are very poor people from Eastern Europe, Philippines and other developing countries, said Scheper-Hughes, who specialises in medical anthropology.
Israel prosecutes organ traffickers
In 2007 Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper reported that two men confessed to persuading “Arabs from the Galilee and central Israel who were developmentally challenged or mentally ill to agree to have a kidney removed for payment.” They then would refuse to pay them.
The paper reported that the two were part of a criminal ring that included an Israeli surgeon. According to the indictment, the surgeon sold the kidneys he harvested for between $125,000 and $135,000. (13)
Earlier that year another Israeli newspaper, the Jerusalem Post, reported that ten members of an Israeli organ smuggling ring targeting Ukrainians had been arrested. (14)
In still another 2007 story, the Jerusalem Post reported that
Professor Zaki Shapira, one of Israel’s leading transplant surgeons, was arrested in Turkey on Thursday on suspicion of involvement in an organ trafficking ring. According to the report, the transplants were arranged in Turkey and took place at private hospitals in Istanbul.
Israeli organ trafficking comes to the U.S.?
In July of this year even US media reported on the arrest of Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, from Brooklyn, recently arrested by federal officials in a massive corruption sweep in New Jersey that netted mayors, government officials and a number of prominent rabbis. Bostrom opens his article with this incident.
According to the federal complaint, Rosenbaum, who has close ties to Israel, said that he had been involved in the illegal sale of kidneys for 10 years. A US Attorney explained: “His business was to entice vulnerable people to give up a kidney for $10,000 which he would turn around and sell for $160,000.” (15)
This is reportedly the first case of international organ trafficking in the U.S.
University of California anthropologist and organ trade expert Nancy Scheper-Hughes, who informed the FBI about Rosenbaum seven years ago, says she heard reports that he had held donors at gunpoint to ensure they followed through on agreements to “donate” their organs. (16)
Israel’s organ donor problems
Israel has an extraordinarily small number of willing organ donors. According to the Israeli news service Ynet,
the percentage of organs donated among Jews is the lowest of all the ethnic groups… In western countries, some 30 per cent of the population have organ donor cards. In Israel, in contrast, four percent of the population holds such cards. (17)
According to statistics from the Health Ministry’s website, in 2001, 88 Israelis died waiting for a transplant because of a lack of donor organs. In the same year, 180 Israelis were brain dead, and their organs could have been used for transplant, but only 80 of their relatives agreed to donate their organs.
According to Ynet, the low incidence of donors is related to “religious reasons.” In 2006 there was an uproar when an Israeli hospital known for its compliance with Jewish law performed a transplant operation using an Israeli donor. The week before, “a similar incident occurred, but since the patient was not Jewish it passed silently.” (18, 19)
The Swedish article reports that Israel has repeatedly been under fire for its unethical ways of dealing with organs and transplants. France was among the countries that ceased organ collaboration with Israel in the 1990s. Jerusalem Post wrote that “the rest of the European countries are expected to follow France’s example shortly.”
Half of the kidneys transplanted to Israelis since the beginning of the 2000s have been bought illegally from Turkey, Eastern Europe or Latin America. Israeli health authorities have full knowledge of this business but do nothing to stop it. At a conference in 2003 it was shown that Israel is the only western country with a medical profession that doesn’t condemn the illegal organ trade. The country takes no legal measures against doctors participating in the illegal business – on the contrary, chief medical officers of Israel’s big hospitals are involved in most of the illegal transplants, according to Dagens Nyheter (December 5, 2003).
To fill this need former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, then health minister of Israel, organized a big donor campaign in the summer of 1992, but while the number of donors skyrocketed, need still greatly surpassed supply.
Palestinian disappearances increase
Bostrom, who earlier wrote of all this in his 2001 book Inshallah, (20) reports in his recent article:
While the campaign was running, young Palestinian men started to disappear from villages in the West Bank and Gaza. After five days Israeli soldiers would bring them back dead, with their bodies ripped open.
Talk of the bodies terrified the population of the occupied territories. There were rumors of a dramatic increase of young men disappearing, with ensuing nightly funerals of autopsied bodies.”
I was in the area at the time, working on a book. On several occasions I was approached by UN staff concerned about the developments. The persons contacting me said that organ theft definitely occurred but that they were prevented from doing anything about it. On an assignment from a broadcasting network I then travelled around interviewing a great number of Palestinian families in the West Bank and Gaza – meeting parents who told of how their sons had been deprived of organs before being killed.”
He describes the case of 19-year-old Bilal Achmed Ghanan, shot by Israeli forces invading his village.
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. Finally, they grabbed him by his feet and dragged him up the twenty stone steps of the workshop stair… Israeli soldiers loading the badly wounded Bilal in a jeep and driving him to the outskirts of the village, where a military helicopter waited. The boy was flown to a destination unknown to his family.
Five days later he was returned, “dead and wrapped up in green hospital fabric.” Bostrom reports that as the body was lowered into the grave, his chest was exposed and onlookers could see that he was stitched up from his stomach to his head. Bostrom writes that this was not the first time people had seen such a thing.
The families in the West Bank and in Gaza felt that they knew exactly what had happened: “Our sons are used as involuntary organ donors,” relatives of Khaled from Nablus told me, as did the mother of Raed from Jenin and the uncles of Machmod and Nafes from Gaza, who had all disappeared for a number of days only to return at night, dead and autopsied.”
Bostrom describes the questions that families asked:
Why are they keeping the bodies for up to five days before they let us bury them? What happened to the bodies during that time? Why are they performing autopsy, against our will, when the cause of death is obvious? Why are the bodies returned at night? Why is it done with a military escort? Why is the area closed off during the funeral? Why is the electricity interrupted?
Israel’s answer was that all Palestinians who were killed were routinely autopsied. However, Bostrom points out that of the133 Palestinians who were killed that year, only 69 were autopsied.
He goes on to write:
We know that Israel has a great need for organs, that there is a vast and illegal trade of organs which has been running for many years now, that the authorities are aware of it and that doctors in managing positions at the big hospitals participate, as well as civil servants at various levels. We also know that young Palestinian men disappeared, that they were brought back after five days, at night, under tremendous secrecy, stitched back together after having been cut from abdomen to chin.
It’s time to bring clarity to this macabre business, to shed light on what is going on and what has taken place in the territories occupied by Israel since the Intifada began. (21)
The new “Blood Libel”?
In scanning through the reaction to Bostrom’s report, one is struck by the multitude of charges that his article is a new version of the old anti-Semitic “blood libel.” Given that fact, it is interesting to examine a 2007 book by Israel’s preeminent expert on medieval Jewish history, and what happened to him.
The author is Bar-Ilan professor (and rabbi) Ariel Toaff, son of the former chief rabbi of Rome, a religious leader so famous that an Israeli journalist writes that Toaff’s father “is to Italian Jewry as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris.” Ariel Toaff, himself, is considered “one of the greatest scholars in his field.” (22, 23)
In February 2007 the Israeli and Italian media were abuzz (though most of the U.S. media somehow missed it) with news that Professor Toaff had written a book entitled “Pasque di Sangue” (“Blood Passovers”) (24) containing evidence that there “was a factual basis for some of the medieval blood libels against the Jews.” [Again, it cannot be “libel” if it is true. Evidence shows that it it true, hence it is not a libel. -ed]
Based on 35 years of research, Toaff had concluded that there were at least a few, possibly many, real incidents.
In an interview with an Italian newspaper (the book was published in Italy), Toaff says:
My research shows that in the Middle Ages, a group of fundamentalist Jews did not respect the biblical prohibition and used blood for healing. It is just one group of Jews, who belonged to the communities that suffered the severest persecution during the Crusades. From this trauma came a passion for revenge that in some cases led to responses, among them ritual murder of Christian children. (25)
(Incidentally, an earlier book containing similar findings was published some years ago, also by an Israeli professor, Israel Shahak, of whom Noam Chomsky once wrote, “Shahak is an outstanding scholar, with remarkable insight and depth of knowledge. His work is informed and penetrating, a contribution of great value.” ) (26)
Professor Toaff was immediately attacked from all sides, including pressure orchestrated by Anti-Defamation League chairman Abe Foxman, but Toaff stood by his 35 years of research, announcing:
I will not give up my devotion to the truth and academic freedom even if the world crucifies me… One shouldn’t be afraid to tell the truth.
Before long, however, under relentless public and private pressure, Toaff had recanted, withdrawn his book, and promised to give all profits that had already accrued (the book had been flying off Italian bookshelves) to Foxman’s Anti-Defamation League. A year later he published a “revised version.” [Toaff now says it was only a few Ashkenazi Jews, but that is not what the evidence shows. -ed]
Donald Bostrom’s experience seems to be a repeat of what Professor Toaff endured: calumny, vituperation, and defamation. Bostrom has received death threats as well, perhaps an experience that Professor Toaff also shared.
If Israel is innocent of organ plundering accusations, or if its culpability is considerably less than Bostrom and others suggest, it should welcome honest investigations that would clear it of wrongdoing. Instead, the government and its advocates are working to suppress all debate and crush those whose questions and conclusions they find threatening.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rather than responding to calls for an investigation, is demanding that the Swedish government abandon its commitment to a free press and condemn the article. The Israeli press office, apparently in retaliation and to prevent additional investigation, is refusing to give press credentials to reporters from the offending newspaper.
Just as in the case of the rampage against Jenin, the attack on the USS liberty, the massacre of Gaza, the crushing of Rachel Corrie, the torture of American citizens, and a multitude of other examples, Israel is using its considerable, worldwide resources to interfere with the investigative process.
It is difficult to conclude that it has nothing to hide.
1/ There are two English translations; this article uses the first:
The original Swedish article in Aftonbladet can be viewed at
2/ New York Times, Feb. 3, 1969, p. 8, Column 6 (53 words)
3/ 40 years after Israel’s first transplant, donor’s family says his heart was stolen
By Dana Weiler-Polak, Haaretz Correspondent, Dec. 14, 2008
4/ Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April 1990, Page 21, The Intifada: Autopsies and Executions
5/ October 30, 1998,Bizarre death of Scottish tourist involves suicide, missing heart
by NETTY C. GROSS, Jerusalem Post Service
6/ The Forward, Illicit Body-Part Sales Present Widespread Problem, By Rebecca Dube, Aug. 26, 2009
7/ Masons, Muslims, Templars, Jews, Henry and Dolly.
8/ Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding, Khalid Amayreh, August 20, 2009
12/ The Economist, Organ transplants: The gap between supply and demand, Oct. 9, 2008
BRAZIL: Poor Sell Organs to Trans-Atlantic Trafficking Ring
By Mario Osava, IPS, Feb. 23, 2004
Haaretz, Two Haifa men sentenced to jail for organ trafficking, By Fadi Eyadat, Dec. 18, 2007
14/ http://www.jpost.com/Police uncover illegal organ trade ring
By REBECCA ANNA STOIL, July 23, 2007
Sting rocks U.S. transplant industry, David Porter, Carla K. Johnson, ASSOCIATED PRESS, july 25, 2009
U.S. Professor: I told FBI about kidney trafficking 7 years ago
By Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz Correspondent, August, 3, 2009
A mitzvah called organ donation, Efrat Shapira-Rosenberg, 10.6.07
Orthodox in uproar over organ donation incident, Neta Sela, 06.22.06
The Return of the Body Snatchers, By Israel Shamir,
Ha’aretz. The Wayward Son, by Adi Schwartz, March 1, 2007
Ha’aaretz, Bar-Ilan to order professor to explain research behind blood libel book
By Ofri Ilani, Haaretz Service and The Associated Press, Feb 11, 2007
Israeli writer Israel Shamir reports that some years ago “…a leading Chabad rabbi, Yitzhak Ginzburgh, gave his religious permission for a Jew to take a liver from a non-Jew even without his consent. He said that ‘a Jew is entitled to extract the liver from a goy if he needs it, for the life of a Jew is more valuable than the life of a goy, likewise the life of a goy is more valuable than the life of an animal.’
Haaretz, Bar Ilan to order professor to explain research behind blood libel book, by Ofri Hani, Feb. 11, 2007.
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August/September 2001, page 11, In Memoriam: Israel Shahak (1933-2001), By Norton Mezvinsky
Israeli Organ Harvesting: From Moldova To Palestine
Nov. 2009 WRMEA
The fact is, however, that Israeli organ harvesting—sometimes with Israeli governmental funding and the participation of high Israeli officials, prominent Israeli physicians, and Israeli government ministries—has been documented for many years. Among the victims have been Palestinians.
Nancy Scheper-Hughes is Chancellor’s Professor of Medical Anthropology at the University of California Berkeley, the founder of Organ Watch, and the author of scholarly books on organ trafficking. She is the pundit mainstream media call upon when they need expert commentary.
While Scheper-Hughes emphasizes that traffickers come from numerous nations and ethnicities, including Americans and Arabs, she is unflinchingly honest in speaking about the Israeli connection: “Israel,” she states, “is at the top. It has tentacles reaching out worldwide.”
In a lecture last year sponsored by New York’s PBS 13 Forum, she explained that Israeli organ traffickers “have a pyramid system at work that’s awesome…they have brokers everywhere, bank accounts everywhere; they’ve got recruiters, they’ve got translators, they’ve got travel agents who set up the visas.”
Until very recently, however, the Israeli government not only permitted organ trafficking, it funded it.
Israelis are the leaders in “transplant tourism”—traveling to other nations to buy internal organs. While affluent individuals from numerous countries engage in this practice, Israel is unique in several ways.
First, Israelis partake at an extraordinarily high rate. According to a 2001 BBC report, Israelis buy more kidneys per capita than any other population.
Second, Israelis have the lowest donor rate in the world—one-third to one-fifth that of Europe—due in part to beliefs that Jewish religious law prohibits organ removal as “desecration of the body.”
Third, the Israeli government has enabled it. In testimony before a congressional subcommittee in 2001, Scheper-Hughes described what she termed Israel’s “national ”˜program’ of transplant tourism.” For many years the Israeli health system subsidized its citizens’ “transplant holidays,” reimbursing Israelis $80,000 for medical operations abroad, with the remaining costs largely covered by government-subsidized insurance plans. In addition, Israel’s Ministry of Defense has been directly involved, as members of the ministry or those closely related to them accompany transplant junkets.
Israeli traffickers have utilized people from diverse locations—the West Bank and Gaza, the Philippines, Eastern Europe. A BBC report described the situation in Europe’s poorest country—homeland of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman—where 90 percent of the people earn less than $2 a day: “Hundreds of Israelis have created a production line that starts in the villages of Moldova, where men today are walking around with one kidney.”
In China not long ago an Israeli paid a broker $100,000 for a kidney transplant from an 18-year-old girl. She herself received $5,000, and died following surgery. In Brazil a legislative commission found that Israeli traffickers no longer were content with just kidneys; they had begun inquiring into additional body parts—lungs, livers and corneas.
In her testimony, Scheper-Hughes pointed out that
The sale of human organs and tissues requires that certain disadvantaged individuals, populations, and even nations have been reduced to the role of ”suppliers.’ It is a scenario in which only certain bodies are broken, dismembered, fragmented, transported, processed, and sold in the interests of a more socially advantaged population…of receivers.
In a 2008 lecture Scheper-Hughes discussed the motivations of Israeli traffickers. One was greed, she explained. The other was “revenge, restitution, reparation for the Holocaust.” She said some Israeli brokers and doctors had told her: “It’s kind of ”˜an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ We’re going to get every single kidney and liver and heart that we can. The world owes it to us.”
Israel’s very first successful heart transplant, in fact, used a stolen heart.
In 1968 Avraham Sadegat unexpectedly died two days after being hospitalized for a stroke. When his family was able to retrieve his body (the hospital initially refused to release it) they found his chest covered with bandages—odd, they thought, for a stroke victim. Upon removing the bandages they discovered that the heart was missing.
During this time, the press was announcing Israel’s first heart transplant. The family began to raise questions, but the hospital denied any connection. After the family raised a media furor, petitioned three cabinet ministers, and signed a document that they would not sue, the hospital finally admitted it had used Sadegat’s heart.
For decades Palestinians have charged Israel with taking organs from Palestinians its soldiers wounded or killed.
In her subcommittee testimony Scheper-Hughes stated,
Human rights groups in the West Bank complained to me of tissue and organs stealing of slain Palestinians by Israeli pathologists at the national Israeli legal medical institute in Tel Aviv.
A 1990 article in the Washington Report for Middle East Affairs reported “widespread anxiety over organ thefts which has gripped Gaza and the West Bank since the intifada began in December of 1987,” and quoted a forensic physician:
There are indications that…organs, especially eyes and kidneys, were removed from the bodies during the first year or year and a half.
Such statements were largely ignored, often portrayed as anti-Semitic exaggeration. According to The Forward magazine, however, the Israeli government corroborated them in 2001. The Forward reports that an investigation into Hiss revealed that he “seemed to view every body that ended up in his morgue, whether Israeli or Palestinian, as fair game for organ harvesting.”
Over the years a great many Palestinian bodies have “ended up” in the Israeli morgue.
Doctor admits Israeli pathologists harvested organs without consent
20 Dec. 2009 The Guardian
Israel has admitted pathologists harvested organs from dead Palestinians, and others, without the consent of their families – a practice it said ended in the 1990s – it emerged at the weekend.
The admission, by the former head of the country’s forensic institute, followed a furious row prompted by a Swedish newspaper reporting that Israel was killing Palestinians in order to use their organs – a charge that Israel denied and called “antisemitic”.
The revelation, in a television documentary, is likely to generate anger in the Arab and Muslim world and reinforce sinister stereotypes of Israel and its attitude to Palestinians.
Ahmed Tibi, an Israeli Arab MP, said the report incriminated the Israeli army.
Channel 2 TV reported that in the 1990s, specialists at Abu Kabir harvested skin, corneas, heart valves and bones from the bodies of Israeli soldiers, Israeli citizens, Palestinians and foreign workers, often without permission from relatives.
Aftonbladet quoted Palestinians as saying young men from the West Bank and Gaza Strip had been seized by the Israeli forces and their bodies returned to their families with missing organs. The interview with Hiss was released by Nancy Scheper-Hughes, professor of anthropology at the University of California-Berkeley who had conducted a study of Abu Kabir.
She was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that while Palestinians were “by a long shot” not the only ones affected, she felt the interview must be made public, because “the symbolism, you know, of taking skin of the population considered to be the enemy, [is] something, just in terms of its symbolic weight, that has to be reconsidered.” [She is referring to the revenge/vengeance motive. -ed]
The Rosenbaum Kidney Trafficking Gang
30 Nov. 2011 Counterpunch
On October 27, 2011 Levy Itzhak Rosenbaum, 60, a portly, sometimes risqué, “self-described” kidney matchmaker, pleaded guilty in a Trenton, NJ federal courtroom to three counts of acquiring, brokering and transferring for “valuable consideration” organs from the bodies of poor Israelis trafficked into the US to service the transplant needs of New Jersey residents, and an additional count of conspiring to do the same.
The Rosenbaum case was the first prosecution of organs trafficking under NOTA , the 1984 National Organ Transplant Act that established altruism as the principle underlying organs sharing among US citizens, whether from living related or deceased donors. Rosenbaum admitted that his modus operandi was to recruit (through extensive networking) local kidney patients willing to pay $140,000 for whom he would arrange kidney sellers from among ethnic minority and new immigrants , mostly Eastern Europeans, to Israel who were paid $10,000 to undergo nephrectomy (kidney removal) in one of several hospitals from NYC to Baltimore willing to harvest and transplant the foreign kidney into the bodies of Rosenbaum’s clients.
The original complaint against Rosenbaum and his plea bargain concern only the illicit transfer of kidneys. There is no mention of the real crime hidden between the lines, the recruitment and trafficking of poor and minority Israelis into the United States for the sole purpose of procuring their organs. The US is not party to the 2000 UN Palermo Convention on human trafficking that includes human trafficking for organs. The Convention has been applied in successful prosecutions in Brazil, South Africa, India, Moldova and elsewhere to prevent human traffickers, some of whom are surgeons and doctors, from exploiting the bio-available bodies of immigrants, refugees, prisoners, the mentally deficient and others from being harvested while still alive.
Under NOTA the only object of concern is the detachable organ, that precious commodity exchanged for “valuable consideration for use in human transplantation”. The person who is trafficked to provide the fresh commodity that is carried across borders is an invisible non-entity, less significant than the “mules” used in transnational drug trafficking. All that is known about two of Rosenbaum’s victims is their names. “They returned to Israel long before we began our investigation”, a federal prosecutor involved in the Rosenbaum case told me.
Transplant trafficking has been going on for many years in the US, as it has elsewhere in the world. The individual cases in my Organs Watch research files run to the hundreds. Some of the victims of US organs trafficking are bonded servants from Syria and Jordan brought into the US to provide kidneys to their patron royal families from the Gulf States. The Cleveland Clinic has a transplant wing that for many years has catered to these so-called “transplant tourists.” UCLA had its heyday with wealthy Japanese Yakuza crime “family members” who were given priority for liver transplants from the UNOS waiting list, livers that technically belonged to US citizens.
So, Rosenbaum’s network, though extensive, represents only one of many forms of transplant trafficking into and out of the United States. Transplant trafficking is a public secret within the transplant profession, something that everyone knows about but which within the corporatist culture of the transplant profession — as secretive as the Vatican — is never discussed. Rosenbaum plea bargained, admitting that he’d arranged three other illegal transplants for New Jersey patients. In fact, he had arranged more than a hundred such transplants in hospitals along the east coast corridor from Boston to Newark to NYC to Philadelphia to Baltimore since 1999.
I first heard about ‘Rosenbaum’ in Israel in the late 1990s among ‘transplant tourists’ who were looking for a safer, if more expensive option than India, a more familiar site than Istanbul, and less distant than Durban, South Africa among the many transplant destinations offered by commercial crime brokers for backdoor transplants abroad that were reimbursed (until 2008) by Israel’s universal health care system. Following my research informants I located Rosenbaum’s home office in Brooklyn, communicated with two of his brokers, and identified the US hospitals that welcomed Rosenbaum’s kidney -matchmaking skills. I also traveled to the communities in Israel and in the former Soviet States that were providing the kidneys – mostly new immigrants and ethnic minorities in Israel, but also trafficked sellers from rural Moldova, Romania and Brazil where local kidney hunters worked for international networks of transplant traffickers.
I won’t discuss here the damages to the bodies and the communities of the kidney sellers or the damages to the kidney buyers, not all of whom survive beyond the first year of their reckless gamble. Caveat emptor! But these ‘consequences’ of the kidney trade forced me to realize that what I was studying on the ground was not a problem in medical ethics, in morality, or even in medical malpractice. It was human trafficking, the recruitment of the wretched of the earth – to provide a so-called ‘spare’ kidney – to very sick and equally desperate buyers. But my attempts to get the attention of transplant societies, to alert health officials at US Health & Human Services, UNOS, Medicare, The New York Commissioner of Health, the media – The New Yorker Magazine , 60 Minutes, and, finally, ( at the suggestion of the NY Commissioner of Health) a NYC FBI agent in 2002… led nowhere.
Nobody, it seemed , cared about transplant trafficking. And, in the meantime, Rosenbaum’s organ trafficking business run out of his classic two story Brooklyn brownstone in Borough Park was growing, despite setbacks from restless sellers from abroad who would panic on arrival in NYC and sometimes had to strong-armed by “enforcers” ( “hey – a deal’s a deal, buddy”) to get them up on the operating table.
Mr. Rosenbaum’s downfall came with the infamous “Jersey Sting” of July 2009, when just about everybody who was anybody – 44 prominent people – were arrested , among them three mayors, a deputy mayor, 2 state legislators, 5 Orthodox Rabbis, a stripper or two, and Rabbi Rosenbaum, who as it turns out, was not a rabbi at all but an Israeli immigrant to the orthodox Jewish community in Borough Park, Brooklyn. He was caught red-handed, so to speak, when he accepted a cash deposit of $10,000 to arrange an illicit transplant at a NYC hospital for an undercover agent posing as a kidney buyer. The essential missing piece – the “fresh” commodity – would be trafficked into the hospital from Israel, where transplant tours usually went the other way – that is, with well-insured Israeli patients traveling into the US, South Africa, Turkey, Moldova, Azerbaijan and Medellin, Columbia and China for kidney and liver transplants, provided by desperate, indebted, disgraced , displaced sellers or 4 executed prisoners (in the case of China).
Caught in the dragnet Rosenbaum admitted that he charged a lot to set up these illegal transplants in some of the best hospitals on the east coast, including Mount Sinai in NYC , Albert Einstein in Philadelphia, and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Of course it was costly, Rosenbaum defended himself, because a lot of people had to be “schemered” (paid off). Just who had to be paid off to expedite Rosenbaum’s kidney express was never part of the legal case against him. It is nowhere in the court records. The prosecution assumed that the hospitals and transplant staff had been “deceived” by the broker and his clients who had agreed to lie. In his guilty plea Rosenbaum admitted to the minimum, to having arranged two other illegal transplants with purchased kidneys for residents of Deal, a Syrian-Jewish enclave in New Jersey. Presumably, Medicare paid for the surgeries of both the transplant patient and their counterfeit ‘kidney kin’, the foreigners described in their patient charts as ‘emotionally related, altruistic living ‘donors’.
Did I see the medical charts? No, but without that statement in the medical files a transplant cannot proceed. It is easy to become ‘emotionally related’ very quickly when a tower of crisp $100 bills ( cash only) is involved in the kidney exchange. One of the “Israeli sellers brokered by Rosenbaum was an African-American Israeli whose parents had immigrated some years ago to Israel, possibly joining the small enclave there of Black Hebrew Israelites founded by a steel worker from Chicago in the 1960s. The other kidney seller is only a name. The prosecution has not tried to find either one. However, we know that they were each paid “$10,000″, the going price in Israel for the kidneys of ethnic minorities, Arab-Israelis, and so-called “Russian” immigrants from the former Soviet countries.
The only middle class Israeli seller in any of the several prosecutions in several countries, was a young man who needed $25,000 (in 2003) to save his restaurant business and was offered a ‘lifeline’ by Ilan Perry, an Israeli organs trafficking crime boss, who made an exception to allow an Ashkenazi to sell his kidney to another middle class Israeli in Durban, South Africa. The young man changed his mind just as he was being prepped for the kidney removal and he escaped down the back stairs of St Augustine’s Hospital in Durban. “It wasn’t worth $25,000”, he said. “I’d rather go to jail than go through the surgery’, he told the airport police who picked him up before he could escape. Palestinians, Arab-Israelis, and Russian immigrants are the primary providers of ‘spare’ kidneys in Israel and to other locations arranged by Israeli organs brokers.
So, if the transplant surgeries of Rosenbaum’s clients and of their “altruistic” kidney donors are paid for by Medicare, as they are for all US citizens, regardless of age or the nationality of the donor, and $10,000 goes to the invisible kidney seller, who else gets paid? Some was paid to the “baby sitters” of the frightened transplant tourists and the foreign sellers who were kept in different accommodations according to their status. There was a safe house in Brooklyn and a minder to make sure the sellers wouldn’t flee. There were the airfares to be purchased, meals, visas, and passports, blood tests to assure that at least the blood type was compatible.
Were the surgeons, transplant coordinators, and nurses given a bonus for taking the risks they did, as happened in other linked Israeli-organized transplant tour schemes that were prosecuted? Rosenbaum’s lawyers argued at his plea bargain hearing and they will likely argue again at the sentencing that their client is a soft-hearted Robin Hood who was saving the lives of his desperately ill clients. The lawyers are also likely to pull at the heart strings of the judge by saying that thousands of people are stranded on the UNOS waiting list, and that every fifteen minutes someone dies waiting for an organ that could save their lives. They won’t say that the fastest growing demographic of patients on the organs queue are patients over 70 years old with multiple diseases who would not be waitlisted for organ transplant in most European nations where reason rules over individual passions and desires to survive at any cost.
Rosenbaum’s clients include those who are too old or too sick to get a UNOS kidney and those who are impatient and those who refuse dialysis altogether. One of his New Jersey kidney recipients was close to 80 years old, not an ideal candidate for the UNOS waiting list. He could be waitlisted but it would be better to suggest that at his age dialysis is the best option. But US doctors, unlike doctors in other countries, do not want to appear ageist or supporting “death lists” even though we are all on one of those lists.
What hasn’t been revealed in the indictment and guilty-plea in the Trenton courtroom was that Rosenbaum and his associates had been setting up illegal transplants in hospitals from Baltimore to NYC to Philadelphia to Minneapolis to Los Angeles since 1999. His Israeli transplant tourist clients described Rosenbaum as greedy but also as jovial, upbeat and a little bit off color. “He put you at ease; he made you relax”, one of his clients told me. Another said that he was a kibitzer, but also a no-nonsense guy. He didn’t like to hear that people were nervous or had reservations. “He had a lot of money riding on these deals, so naturally he kept his eye on us. I realized he was worried that one of us might lose our courage, might change our mind, and then what?”
One client said of Rosenbaum, “He looked very orthodox, dressed in black pants and coat, white shirt, black hat, but he wasn’t so worried about Halacha (Jewish Talmudic law), and that was fine with me because I am an atheist and the Doctor is God enough for me.” Neither was Rosenbaum very concerned about US laws, NOTA or US laws against smuggling illegal workers into this country, or laws against defrauding Medicare, all of which came into play. Asher A., a recovering kidney patient who was transplanted in a famous hospital in Philadelphia with a trafficked kidney seller via Rosenberg and his associates, told me in an interview in 2001 that quite naturally he was afraid of many things going into the transplant deal: his life was at stake; what they was doing was “not exactly legal”. What if he was questioned going in and out of the US? Would he say he was visiting relatives or that he was having medical treatments?
Would the story that Rosenbaum had concocted to link Asher with an Arab-Israeli woman from Haifa be accepted at face value by the transplant staff. “I said that we were classmates as children”, Asher told me, and no one batted an eye. So, I guessed that everything was normal, out in the open…At least every few days Rosenbaum would pop his head in the special apartment they kept for us. I though that he was very worried that we weren’t taking care of the apartment he had rented for us, but I think he was making sure that we were OK”. Asher appreciated that Rosenbaum “didn’t try to get inside your head, or inside your soul, like some orthodox people. He made everything seem normal.”
In the 1990s Rosenbaum was the man to go to among Israeli ‘transplant tourists’ looking for a safer, if more expensive, option than India or Romania , more familiar than Istanbul, and less distant than Durban, South Africa, among the dozens of destinations offered by Israeli brokers arranging ‘back door’ transplants abroad. Rosenbaum and his gang, worked through an Israeli boss named “Tevye” (a name that was always whispered) who was the big shot who organized the Israeli patients and matched them to strangers who would pose as altruistic donors. “Tevye” employed kidney hunters, a lower strata of intermediaries, some of them previous sellers themselves, who were paid by the head to troll immigration offices, jails, unemployment offices, factories, Arab markets, and public housing on the urban periphery, looking for the bioavailable — the debtors, the displaced, the desperate and the cognitively disabled. Ads were placed in Hebrew, Russian, and Arabic in bold letters “as if they were yelling at you”, a new Ukraine immigrant kidney seller told me in 2009 in Jerusalem. “Here you are, like, alone, lonely, and sad, you don’t know anybody, you have a stigma like a black man in America. Everyone here hates Russians. They say, you [Russians] brought crime into Israel. Your people are all drunkards. You are not really Jews. And you have a strong accent that always betrays you. Then, suddenly you see this ad in the newspapers or posted on a wall or on the Internet that is saying “We want you! We need you!” and you feel like at least somebody cares about you. So, I called and I went through the medical exam and the blood matching tests, but I never got to meet the guy who would get my kidney, except in the airport. He was an old man, very sick, very feeble and in a wheelchair. He was being pushed into the first class section. I was stuck in the back of the plane in third class. Just before we got on the plane, the rabbi from [Bellinson Hospital] came and blessed him, the old man, the patient, but he didn’t come over to bless me. He didn’t say a prayer over my head.”
The transplant tourists paid $160,000-$180,000 for their transplant tour via Tevye and Rosenbaum. They came over in groups of four and five. Asher told me that “there were four other Israelis were in the transplant unit at Albert Einstein Hospital in Philadelphia at the same time. The money was raised through Israeli sick funds (insurance) and in part raised by campaigns run by Jewish charity foundations, some of which laundered the money and somehow cycled it back to Rosenbaum and his group. In the 1990s United LifeLine was the primary charity that opened an account for each transplant tourist.
Somewhere around 2002 or 2003 Rosenbaum changed his tactics and began operating more discreetly and with US citizens as his primary transplant clients. On one of my Organs Watch visits to hospitals in NYC, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, I met with transplant surgeons whom I knew to be involved in transplants arranged by Rosenbaum and I confronted them with the facts as I knew them. I also met with a New York Daily News reporter who published a front page and center piece based on a few comments I made to him about Brooklyn organs brokers trafficking displaced Eastern Europeans, and smuggling them into some of New York City’s finest hospitals, where they posed as the loved ones of affluent transplant tourists from Israel. The story, lacking any details, which I did not provide, interrupted a carefully orchestrated visit to the Rosenbaum headquarters accompanied by one of his associates from another east coast city. When I telephoned to confirm the visit I was told that Rosenbaum and his agency did not exist.
Then, in the fall of 2003, police stings in Recife, Brazil and in Durban, South Africa arrested two dozen brokers, surgeons, transplant coordinators, translators, blood lab workers, and private medical companies who were charged with human trafficking, organized crime, fraud, conspiracy, medical malpractice, and even in the case of Durban-Netcare, of trafficking minors as kidney providers. Perhaps Rosenbaum was becoming a bit desperate. I received a series of e-mails throughout the summer of 2002 from a man who identified himself with an alias “David Hamilton” asking for my help in extracting himself from an organization that he described as “the primary link between Israel and the United States in the illegal kidney trafficking business”.
He was employed, he said, by the NYC office that handled all the medical arrangements. He handled the medical files, the insurance claims, and the blood work files. He explained that while there was a totally legal aspect to the organization which was established to help Israelis get the medical care they needed anywhere in the world, that when “kidneys’ got into the mix it became a criminal outfit, and he, a young Jewish seminarian, wanted no part in it. He had complained to the ‘management’ and they had docked his wages. He began to dislike the people he worked for. They presented themselves as religious people and humanitarians when in fact they were motivated, he wrote, by one thing only, greed for the money they could make from the kidneys of people who sometimes arrived frightened to death and trying to back out of the deals. Whenever that happened, David wrote, his employer would push them against a wall, and stick a finger to their head screaming at them that this was a serious deal and there was no backing out after all the money had been spent in setting up the transplant and bringing the donor and the recipient together.
It didn’t help, said David, that two of the employees carried guns, registered, but guns all the same. He asked me to identify a safe way to alert the appropriate officials. I told him that I knew the organization he was with and that we could meet and see if anyone from the office of the Health Commissioner or US Health and Human Services could assist us. He wrote a final email in the fall saying that he was backing out altogether, that he and his fiancé were moving to another state. When I learned on a documentary film trip to Moldova that some young men recruited from economically demolished rural villages there ended up supplying kidneys to hospitals in New York City I reported this information (verified by officials at the US Embassy in Chisinau) to US Visa Control in Arlington, Virginia, to UNOS, to HHS, to The New York Commissioner of Health, the American Transplant Association and, finally, to a NYC FBI agent — to no avail.
Nobody cared about, or even believed in, human trafficking for organs. I went to the media, to CBS, to 60 Minutes and then to 48 Hours which did send an investigative reporter, Avi Cohan, to meet me in Israel where we spoke to patients who had had “undercover” transplants at hospitals in NYC Philadelphia, the Bay Area, and Los Angeles. CBS decided not to do the exposé. I was stumped. No one wanted to accuse surgeons, or prevent a suffering patient from getting a transplant, even with an illegally procured kidney from a displaced person from abroad. The Israeli origins of the trafficking network did not help either. It smacked of bias, blood libel, or worse. “Don’t Indians and Pakistanis broker more kidneys than Israelis”, I was asked? Why pick on Israel?
Thus, it took seven more years for New Jersey FBI to arrest Rosenbaum in 2009 as part of a much larger organized crime sting. One of the fish they caught in their dragnet was a ‘kidney broker’, a job most people had never heard of. And even the prosecutors did not seem to understand that the crime was not simply corruption, greed, and organized crime but rather the theft of life , defrauding the wretched of the earth of their spare kidneys, stealing from the poor to supplement the bodies of the well-insured and well advantaged. Whatever else he is, Isaac Rosenbaum is no Robin Hood. The reluctance to investigate the international dimensions of the crime, to make visible the suffering of the sick, while obscuring the suffering of the manipulated and sometimes coerced kidney sellers, to ignore the defrauding of Medicare which covers US transplant patients with “false” donors on the grounds that everyone was lying and the hospitals and surgeons were all deceived is preposterous.
Kidney trafficking is indeed the perfect crime. Empathy is displaced. Unless the complicit hospital records are subpoenaed we will never know how many illegal transplants were performed through the Rosenbaum gang. A surgeon at one of the major hospitals who wishes to remain anonymous suggests that it would be in the range of one hundred or more during Rosenbaum’s heyday. At $140,000 (low) to $180,000 (high) paid for each of 100 transplants (even with lots of people to bribe along the way), that’s a lot of money to launder, at least 150 million dollars, a profitable business for Mr Rosenbaum.
I interviewed several of the surgeons involved in the criminal dealings and if they did not know it was because they chose not to know. One of the hospitals I confronted acknowledged as much. The prosecutions of the Israeli- Brazil- South Africa transplant business involved many surgeons who, according to one of the convicted brokers, were paid bonuses by the scheme in cash each month for the number of illegal transplants they performed. In Brazil, a retired military doctor pocketed several hundred dollars from the Israeli scheme for each blood matching test he did to enable poor men from the slums of Recife to sell a kidney to an Israeli transplant tourist in Durban, South Africa. The donor’s blood was tested for matching the recipients by Dr. Silvio Bourdeaux, but the donors’ weight and height, blood composition and nutritional status were not measured. Some were severely anemic, most were poorly nourished. Were they willing to sell? For $8,000 or $6,000, yes they were.
But there are some contracts that are null and void when the power differential between the buyer and the seller (of labor) is too great. Kidney sellers are easily exploited and have no form of collective bargaining or even of their well-being (or not) represented in the court transcripts. They are the invisible global men ( and some women). What I imagine is that the complicit surgeons loved the Rosenbaum option because they didn’t have to go through UNOS, the United Network for Organ Sharing, which until 2007, had nothing to do with living donors, related or unrelated. Hospital administrators loved it because foreign patients paid cash so there was no waiting for Medicare or insurance premiums. And there was minimal responsibility for the aftercare of the recipients or their kidney providers. Both were speedily returned to their respective communities and countries. Should they ever get caught red-handed, surgeons can cite patient confidentiality (their privacy oath), the hospitals could pretend they had been duped, the transplant coordinators could say that they followed the transplant protocols for living donors, but they are not, after all, detectives. Everybody wins. Lives were ‘saved’, transplant surgeons got to do what they do best, poor people got a ‘bonus’ for being charitable with their ‘spare’ kidneys, and everybody was happy.
Or were they? It was a nice mythology. Who would begrudge a kidney patient saving or improving his life at any cost, even breaking the law, or (for the American recipients of trafficked kidneys via Rosenbaum’s scheme), defrauding Medicare which covers the cost of kidney transplant no matter the age of the patient or identity of the living donor. Medicare was happy because transplants got US kidney patients off expensive 3x weekly dialysis machines. Everyone knew what was going on, of course, but nobody wanted to spill the beans. As for the kidney sellers, I don’t have to imagine. I know how they fare in Moldova, in Israel, in Brazil, in Romania, in the Philippines and in Egypt. The kidney providers are neither healthy, nor happy nor wealthy as a result of their ‘free’ choice. Today, some want revenge. All want restitution for having been swindled in one way or another.
Meanwhile, complicit transplant doctors collude and protect each other, while the best ones tried to fix the problem from inside the profession without the help of the DOJ or the courts getting involved. Bioethicists argue endlessly about the “ethics” of what is in fact a crime and a medical human rights abuse. Economists and moral philosophers launch arguments based on rational choice theory for regulation rather than prosecution, as if prosecutions were going on every day. In fact, as the Rosenbaum history shows so well, human trafficking for organs is a protected crime. It is protected by the charisma and awe-inspiring ‘ miracle’ of transplant. The Rosenbaum guilty plea is the first prosecution in the United States for organs trafficking. On February 2nd Rosenbaum could be sentenced to five to 12 years in prison and a fine for illegally brokering organs in New Jersey. But the larger and deeper story of his international kidney dealings, his hired traffickers, kidney hunters, ‘enforcers’, money laundering operations, false charity organizations, Medicare fraud is yet to be told. And in the meantime, “life saving” for some at the cost of diminishing the lives of others ,the invisible kidney sellers of Chernobyl, Kiev, Nazareth, or the Negev desert, will continue undeterred.
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. Since 1996, she has been involved in active field research on the global traffic in human organs. She is a co-founder of Organs Watch, an independent, medical human rights, research and documentation center at UC Berkeley. Last year CounterPunch published her investigation, “The Body of the Terrorist: Body Parts, Bio-Piracy and the Spoils of War at Israel’s National Forensic Institute.” She can be reached at: nsh @ berkeley.edu
Black Market for Body Parts Spreads Among the Poor in Europe
28 June, 2012 New York Times
Facing grinding poverty, some Europeans are seeking to sell their kidneys, lungs, bone marrow or corneas, experts say. This phenomenon is relatively new in Serbia, a nation that has been battered by war and is grappling with the financial crisis that has swept the Continent. The spread of illegal organ sales into Europe, where they are gaining momentum, has been abetted by the Internet, a global shortage of organs for transplants and, in some cases, unscrupulous traffickers ready to exploit the economic misery.
In Spain, Italy, Greece and Russia, advertisements by people peddling organs — as well as hair, sperm and breast milk — have turned up on the Internet, with asking prices for lungs as high as $250,000. In late May, the Israeli police detained 10 members of an international crime ring suspected of organ trafficking in Europe, European Union law enforcement officials said. The officials said the suspects had targeted impoverished people in Moldova, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
“Organ trafficking is a growth industry,” said Jonathan Ratel, a European Union special prosecutor who is leading a case against seven people accused of luring poor victims from Turkey and former communist countries to Kosovo to sell their kidneys with false promises of payments of up to $20,000. “Organized criminal groups are preying upon the vulnerable on both sides of the supply chain: people suffering from chronic poverty, and desperate and wealthy patients who will do anything to survive.”
Medical chief at Costa Rica state hospital arrested as part of organ trafficking investigation
19 June, 2013 Inside Costa Rica
A chief doctor at a Costa Rican government-ran hospital was arrested yesterday on suspicion of being part of an international organ trafficking network which specializes in selling kidneys to patients in Israel, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
Attorney General Jorge Chavarria told the press that the arrested is Francisco Mora Palma, head of Nephrology at Calderon Guardia Hospital, one of the largest state medical centers in the country.
“The patients who required the transplants were in Israeli territory, and some of the (trafficking) victims [had their kidney removed] here and others were transported to Israel. We have information that at least one person died after being operated on in Israel,” Chavarria said.
The prosecutor explained that the organization has branches in Israel and Eastern Europe, though did not elaborate, citing the ongoing investigation.
Payout to brother of star over organ harvesting
13 Aug. 2013 Times of Israel
Dudu Topaz’s sibling wins NIS 300,000 ($85,000) settlement for removal of heart from famed entertainer who killed himself
Last May Goldenberg sued the institute and its former director Yehuda Hiss for NIS 2.5 million ($704,000) over the wrongful removal of his brother’s organ without the family’s knowledge.
In March 2012 the state was forced to pay out NIS 3 million ($845,000) in compensation to the families of soldiers whose bodies were mishandled at Abu Kabir.
The families sued the state after they discovered that the institute had saved tissue and organs from the soldiers, as well as other individuals, after unauthorized autopsies.
In January, investigations revealed that the institute, under the leadership Hiss, kept more than 8,000 body parts in storage.
Hiss had already admitted in 2005 that the institute had harvested heart valves, skin, and bones from the bodies, but said that the practice no longer took place.
According to the Yedioth Ahronoth report, some of the labels on containers holding the body parts were too faded to allow the identification of their origin.
Police: Beersheba man suspected of trading human organs
22 April, 2014 Jerusalem Post
Negev District Police have been investigating suspicions of illegal organ trading over the past month, it was revealed on Tuesday after a gag order on the case was lifted.
According to police, the crime involved 18-20 year-old girls being flown to Turkey, where the organs, mainly kidneys, were removed and implanted into patients in need of transplants. The principle suspect in the case is a Beersheba man in his forties who is currently at large despite efforts to locate and arrest him. The man is suspected of illegally brokering between prospective organ donors and recipients.
Turkish authorities are also involved in the investigation.
The investigation began on March 21 when the parents of an 18-year-old girl lodged a complaint at the Beersheba Police Station that the girl was en route to Turkey, where she was selling her kidney for money.
Investigators detained the girl for questioning upon her return to Israel some three days later, determining that she had not actually donated her kidney. Police found that the woman had indeed flown to Turkey in order to sell her kidney, but had changed her mind under pressure from her family.
Police also discovered that a friend of the girl had already donated an organ in Turkey and was set to return to Israel. The second woman was detained upon her return to Israel, where she told police that she had donated her kidney to a woman in her fifties from central Israel that she had met a year-and-a-half earlier.
The organ recipient was also questioned by police, telling investigators that she was given the kidney for free, and paid a fee of some NIS 300,000 to the hospital in Turkey for the procedure.
Investigators also questioned a doctor from central Israel suspected of performing examinations to see if the donor and recipient were a match and gave the necessary pre-transplant consultations. The doctor said during questioning that he knows the main suspect in the case, who would send him patients in need of transplants for consultations and examinations.
Police said that the investigation has thus far uncovered three instances of organ trade through a third party who mediated between donors and patients in exchange for payment abroad and that the investigation would continue until the main suspect was apprehended.
Alleged Israeli organ trafficker arrested in Cyprus
2 June, 2014 Times of Israel
An Israeli man suspected of illegally trafficking in human organs has been detained in Cyprus for using a fake passport. Uzi Shmueli, a former professional soccer player for ha-Poel Beersheba, allegedly headed a crime ring that lured struggling young Israeli women, mostly from the south of the country, to Turkey and paid them 20,000 shekels (some $5,750) for their kidneys. Israeli authorities suspected that he’d fled abroad after they opened an investigation into the alleged trafficking ring. Past reports have said Israeli patients have paid up to $20,000 for a black market kidney. Shmueli was traveling to Cyprus to see his wife and daughter, according to Ynet, and was arrested upon his arrival at Larnaca airport. When he presented his passport to authorities, they discovered it was forged. A Cypriot judge sentenced him to four months in prison. Israeli authorities have not yet said whether they will seek immediate extradition or wait until Shmueli finishes his jail term, after which he would automatically be deported back to Israel. In Jun 2013, the Costa Rican Attorney General’s Office alleged that Israeli doctors had performed kidney-removal operations on some Costa Ricans who sold their organs. The organs were allegedly removed both in Costa Rica and Israel. Under Israel’s new organ transplant law passed in 2008, health maintenance organizations and supplemental insurance companies in the country stopped funding most organ transplants for Israelis abroad if the origin of the organ could be at all suspect.