October 17, 2009

Iran steps in as demining work slows in Lebanon

By Abigail Fielding-Smith

  • October 17, 2009 12:15AM UAE

A team of deminers from the Mine Action Group clear a field covered in unexploded cluster munitions outside the southern Lebanon town of Nabatiyeh earlier this week. The NGO has been forced to reduce its teams from 14 to 10 because of a lack of funds. Mitchell Prothero / The National

NABATIYEH, SOUTH LEBANON // In a sun-bleached, breeze-block town just outside of Nabatiyeh in south Lebanon, a new-looking billboard has been erected.

It announces the headquarters of a recently established non-governmental group called the Peace Generation Organisation for Demining (PGOD). In the corner of the billboard is a discreet representation of the Iranian flag. Although the organisation is Lebanese, the director of PGOD, Mahmoud Rahhal, confirmed that “most” of the group’s funding comes from their partner organisation, ISOP, an Iranian demining company, which also provides supervision and training expertise.

Iran, along with the Arab Gulf states, has played a conspicuous role in the reconstruction effort in south Lebanon following the 2006 war with Israel, and the Iranian flag is a common sight on rebuilt roads around the south.

This appears to be the first time, however, that Iranian money has been involved in the effort to remove the estimated 1.4 million unexploded cluster bombs dropped by Israel in the last 72 hours of the conflict. Up until now the clearance project has been funded by various sources worldwide, including the UAE, which was already contributing US$50 million (Dh183.5m) to landmine removal efforts in the south before the 2006 war and gave a further $20m to a programme which finished in 2007.

According to sources involved in the post-war reconstruction effort, Iran offered to assist with the ordnance removal efforts immediately after the war, but was discouraged from contributing by Lebanese authorities until a few months ago, when they signed a memorandum of understanding with PGOD allowing them to work in the field.

Iranian influence in Lebanon is a highly sensitive issue. In a recent speech, Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah admitted for the first time that the Shia military group, which is also a political party, receives military and financial assistance from the Islamic republic.

PGOD implied their own close relationship with Hizbollah when they invited a senior party official to a press conference explaining their mission earlier this month, and they have a picture of Nasrallah in their publicity brochure.

In recent years, Iran and Syria on one side, and the West and “moderate” Sunni Arab states on the other have played out their power struggles by proxy in Lebanon through the political battle between the government and the Hizbollah-dominated opposition.

Deminers from the Mine Action Group use metal detectors, trowels and spray paint to clear munitions from the 2006 war with Israel. Michael Prothero / The National

Both the Gulf Arab states and Iran poured aid money into the south after the 2006 war, in a highly politicised reconstruction effort characterised by policy analysts as a competition for legitimacy. According to a forthcoming book by Amal Saad Ghorayeb, the then-Sinioria government was initially reluctant to assign large-scale reconstruction projects to Iran for fear of expanding Iranian influence, but the sheer quantity of money Iran was willing to spend (estimated at over $600m in total) gave it a pre-eminent role in the reconstruction effort.

Although PGOD’s money does not come from the Iranian government, the involvement of an Iranian-linked NGO in the cluster bomb clearance effort is potentially more controversial than Iran’s role in rebuilding infrastructure because of the military aspects of the operation: it involves co-ordinating with the Lebanese army, handling explosives, and sometimes working in areas south of the Litani river, from which Hizbollah was obliged to withdraw any military presence under the terms of the 2006 ceasefire.

According to Timur Goksel, a former official with Unifil, there are “no security implications” to any organisation being involved in cluster bomb removal.

All demining agencies are under the supervision of the Lebanese authorities, who decide which areas of land are going to be worked by which organisations.

Nonetheless, the perception problem remains. PGOD has aroused intense, if unsubstantiated suspicion in certain quarters, with some people suggesting they are not solely here for the purpose of demining.

It is unclear why the Lebanese authorities appear to have changed their attitude towards allowing Iranian funding in the cluster bomb removal programme, but one explanation is that the western NGOs are experiencing serious donor fatigue, and there remains an estimated 16.5 square kilometres of contaminated land still to be cleared.

The Lebanese Mine Action Centre (LMAC), the main national co-ordinating body for mine-clearance activities, had initially estimated that cluster bomb removal would be completed by the middle of this year, a projection which funding shortfalls are now forcing it to revise.

The unexploded munitions scattered across the south Lebanon countryside have claimed 349 casualties since the end of the war. The majority of them are children, who are attracted to the munitions as playthings – one type has white ribbons, and another looks like a white tennis ball.

Although casualty rates have been declining, much of the land which remains to be cleared is agricultural, and its ongoing contamination affects livelihoods.

In the past year, funding scarcity has forced the largest NGO, Mines Advisory Group (MAG), to reduce its teams from 14 to 10, slowing the rate of clearance, and the Swedish Rescue Services Agency (SRSA) has had to close its operations down altogether, making around 50 local staff unemployed.

“I was very disappointed to have to close the programme down,” said David Alderson, the former programme and operations manager for SRSA, who lost part of his leg during a clearance operation here in 2006.

“I knew there was still work to be done but I just couldn’t get funding.”

Christina Bennike, the project manager for MAG, which has succeeded in clearing 13 square kilometres since 2006, says she can only guarantee the existence of her reduced teams for another few months.

“We have secure funding up until the end of March, we can’t say for sure after that, no one knows.”

The NGOs cite various reasons for the funding slowdown, including the global recession and Lebanon’s relatively low scoring on other humanitarian priority indicators such as poverty.

In contrast to the western NGOs, PGOD appears to be in a much more secure position. “We are getting more funds, we are comfortable in our objectives,” said Mr Rahhal, who estimates that 90 per cent of his local staff previously worked for the western demining agencies.

Mr Rahhal, a Lebanese engineer who spent 25 years working in the humanitarian sector, stresses that his group is working in a spirit of co-operation with the other agencies, striving towards the same shared goals: “our right to live well, in our country, and have a good harvest.” Lebanese authorities and members of the demining community have expressed their appreciation for the extra two battlefield clearance teams provided by PGOD, which supplement the 16 western NGO teams and three Unifil ones.

If current donor trends continue, however, PGOD’s logo — and possibly the Iranian flag — could become more prevalent on the vehicles skirting the sloping tobacco and olive fields of south Lebanon.

“We are not competing with anyone,” said Mr Rahhal, “but if [the other NGOS] leave and our budget allows it, we will do more.”


Tshala Mwana - Rumba From Africa

Deformed babies in Fallujah/Iraq LETTER TO THE U.N.

| H.E. Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki
President of the Sixty-fourth Session of the United Nations General Assembly
United Nations
New York, NY 10017

October 12th 2009

Your Excellency,


Young women in Fallujah in Iraq are terrified of having children because of the increasing number of babies born grotesquely deformed, with no heads, two heads, a single eye in their foreheads, scaly bodies or missing limbs. In addition, young children in Fallujah are now experiencing hideous cancers and leukaemias. These deformities are now well documented, for example in television documentaries on SKY UK on September 1 2009, and on SKY UK June 2008. Our direct contact with doctors in Fallujah report that:

In September 2009, Fallujah General Hospital had 170 new born babies, 24% of whom were dead within the first seven days, a staggering 75% of the dead babies were classified as deformed.

This can be compared with data from the month of August in 2002 where there were 530 new born babies of whom six were dead within the first seven days and only one birth defect was reported.

Doctors in Fallujah have specifically pointed out that not only are they witnessing unprecedented numbers of birth defects but premature births have also considerably increased after 2003. But what is more alarming is that doctors in Fallujah have said, “a significant number of babies that do survive begin to develop severe disabilities at a later stage”.

As one of a number of doctors, scientists and those with deep concern for Iraq, Dr Chris Burns-Cox, a British hospital physician, wrote a letter to the Rt. Hon. Clare Short, M.P. asking about this situation. She wrote a letter to the Rt. Hon.Douglas Alexander, M.P. the Secretary of State of the Department for International Development (a post she had held before she resigned on a matter of principle in May 2003 ) asking for clarification of the position of deformed children in Fallujah.

She received a reply dated 3rd September 2009 (two days after the Sky TV broadcast of 1st September 2009 ) from a junior minister, deputy to The Secretary of State, Mr. Gareth Thomas MP, Duty Minister, Department for International Development. In his reply he denies that there are more than two or three deformed babies in Fallujah in a year and asserts that there is, therefore, no problem. This is at wild variance with reports coming out of Fallujah. One grave digger of a single cemetery is burying four to five babies a day, most of which he says are deformed.

Clare Short passed us a copy of this letter. It bears a remarkable similarity to three other written answers we have received over a four year period, in regard to child health and the use of depleted uranium. All these letters are based on lies and an aim to confuse the recipients. In her autobiography “Honorable Deception?” Clare Short says “The first instinct of Number 10 (Downing Street) is to lie."

We regard the mendacity of Mr. Thomas’s letter, and of the other letters we have received, as extremely serious. These letters do not deal with minor matters of corruption, or taxes, but do deal with the use of armed forces and deadly weapons.

The use of certain weapons has tremendous repercussions. Iraq will become a country, if it has not already done so, where it is advisable not to have children. Other countries will watch what has happened in Iraq, and imitate the Coalition Allies’ total disregard of the United Nations Charter, The Geneva, and Hague Conventions, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Some countries, such as Afghanistan, will also come to experience the very long term damage to the environment, measured in billions of years, and the devastating effect of depleted uranium and white phosphorous munitions.

If, as we say in our letter to the Duty Minister of the Department for International Development, the UK Government clearly does not know the effects of the weapons it uses, nor, as a matter of policy, does “it do body counts”, how can the UK Government judge whether it is conducting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan according to International Law, especially in terms of “proportionality” and long term damage to the natural environment? How can the UK know about the illegality of the weapons systems it sells on the international market, such as the “Storm Shadow” missile, if the very Department of the Government that is supposed to assess the deaths and medical needs of children and adults in Iraq is not telling the truth.

We request from the United Nations General Assembly the following:

1. To acknowledge that there is a serious problem regarding the unprecedented number of birth defects and cancer cases in Iraq specifically in Fallujah, Basra, Baghdad and Al - Najaf.

2. To set up an independent committee to conduct a full investigation into the problem of the increased number of birth defects and cancers in Iraq.

3. To implement the cleaning up of toxic materials used by the occupying forces including Depleted Uranium, and White Phosphorus.

4. To prevent children and adults entering contaminated areas to minimize exposure to these hazards.

5. To investigate whether war crimes, or crimes against humanity, have been committed, and thereby uphold the United Nations Charter, The Geneva and Hague Conventions, and The Rome Statute of The International Criminal Court.

Please find enclosed a copy of our letter to Mr Gareth Thomas, dated 12th October 2009, and his letter to The Rt Hon Clare Short, M.P. dated 3rd September 2009, and enclosures relating to this matter.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Nawal Majeed Al-Sammarai ( Iraq Minister of Women’s Affairs 2006 -2009)

Dr. David Halpin FRCS (Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgeon)

Malak Hamdan M. Eng in Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering.

Dr Chris Burns-Cox MD FRCP

Dr. Haithem Alshaibani (Environmental Sciences)

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (Author and Journalist)
Nicholas Wood MA, RIBA, FRGS

Enclosures to follow by surface mail:

1: Copy of Sky Television Documentary 1 September 2009 “ The Deformed Babies of Fallujah”:

2: Copy of Sky Television Documentary June 2008 “ The Deformed Babies of Fallujah”.

3: Frieder Wagners’s film “ Deadly Desert Dust” 2006.

4: Report by doctors in Fallujah 4 March 2008 “ Prohibited Weapons Crisis”

5: Film the “Dying children of Iraq”,compiled by Nicholas Wood.

6: US Army briefing on the use of White Phosphorous in Fallujah on “Shake and Bake Missions”

7: Report “Who Can Forgive the Crime of using Depleted Uranium Against Iraq and Humanity” by Dr Haithem Alshaibani, September 2009 .

8: Written Answer by Mr Hilary Benn, Secretary of State, Department for International Development to Parliamentary Question. 10 March 2005.

9: Letter by Mr Hilary Benn, Secretary of State, Department for International Development to The Independent, 20 January 2007, in reply to the 98 Doctors’ letter to the Prime Minister.

10:Letter by Rt.Hon. Des Browne, M.P. UK Former Minister of Defence to Rt. Hon. Tony Benn, November 2008

11: Black Country Coroner’s District ( Sandwell, Dudley.and Walsall: ) Coroner’s Report into death of Stuart Raymond Dyson. 18 September 2009.

12: Calculations of expected child abnormalities in a city the size of Cardiff or Fallujah using UK statistics , David Halpin FRCS

Letter from Mr Gareth Thomas M.P. Duty Minister, Department for International Development, 3 September 2009 to Rt. Hon. Clare Short M.P.

Please also see:

The Deceit of Depleted Uranium use in Afghanistan - Part 1

Peter Eyre


Jerusalem Crimes Derail Lieberman Tour

By Kawther Salam - Vienna, Austria - October 17, 2009

During a recent press conference, Austrian Foreign Minister Dr. Michael Spindelegger called for a stop of construction of Jewish squatter colonies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, for a removal of the outposts emplaced since 2001, and for an end of the Israeli “blockade policy”, stressing that “a peace process in the Middle East that deserves this name would be in Israel’s very own interest”. Minister Spindelegger gave this press conference on 14 October 2009, at the end of a visit by israeli foreign minister Liebermann in Austria. The visit had previously been announced by Liebermann, implying that Austria, among other countries, “had not yet received his attention”, as if his dropping by was a great favor to these countries. The full text of the press release of the Austrian foreign ministry follows (emphasis mine):


“There will be no success overnight in the Middle East. Yet we must exploit every opportunity for movement”, said Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger after his meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman in Vienna. “A peace process in the Middle East that deserves this name would be in Israel’s very own interest. The development of Israeli relations with Egypt and Jordan in recent decades shows that sustainable peace results in a concrete security gain for Israel”, stressed Spindelegger.

“No partner in the region can evade its responsibility”. Everyone must make their contribution toward creating an atmosphere that allows for serious negotiations”, said the Minister, who also described the clear expectations toward Israel: “We demand a credible stop to the illegal settlement policy, even in Eastern Jerusalem, and the dismantling of the outer posts that have been illegally erected since 2001. Likewise, Israel should put an end to the humanitarian suffering in the Gaza Strip and lift the suffocating blockade policy.”

At the same time, Palestinians must also make their contribution. “A lasting internal Palestinian reconciliation, a convincing rejection of violence, and the recognition of Israel’s right to exist are indispensable concessions for realizing the vision of an own state for the Palestinian people”, said Spindelegger.

The two Ministers also discussed the Goldstone report on the Gaza conflict in the beginning of the year. “The report, which is to be further debated by the UN Human Rights Council, contains serious accusations against both conflict parties. It should form the basis for Israel and the Palestinians to carry out comprehensive internal examinations into the accusations. The objective is also to build up mutual trust. There can be no blank spots on the map of humanitarian international law in the Middle East”, stressed Spindelegger.

Source (Austrian Foreign Ministry).

More writing by Kawther Salam

How many dead in Iraq?

Left i on the news - October 16, 2009

Repeating a story from six months ago (only this time it's "official" as compared to an "unofficially obtained study), the headlines read (incorrectly and misleadingly) that "[Iraqi] Government says 85,000 Iraqis killed in 2004-08." But from the very first sentence, which informs us that the government actually said that at least 85,000 Iraqis were killed in that period, the article is both false and misleading. It does, to be fair, acknowledge that to a degree. For example, quite near the end of the article, at a point which didn't make it into the print copy I read, we learn that the official releasing the study estimates (or, rather, guesstimates) that the real number is "10 to 20 percent higher." And the article does note that the estimate doesn't include those killed in 2003 (and that includes members of the Iraqi military who died defending their sovereign country from an illegal invasion, making their deaths just as "innocent" as any other), insurgents, foreigners, and Iraqis who have died from nonviolent causes but very much as a result of the invasion (due to the severely deteriorated public health and health care situation). "Excess deaths," which would include all those categories, is apparently only a methodology which is used in the corporate media in connection with such places as Darfur, that is, places where the highest possible number serves the interest of the U.S. government (regardless, in the case of Darfur, of the almost complete lack of evidence for the numbers cited).

At the end of the article, again at a point at which print copies of the paper often don't (didn't in my case) continue, we are reminded of "cluster studies" including the WHO and Johns Hopkins studies which have shown substantially higher numbers of deaths (in part at least because they included some of the categories excluded by this study, and dated from the start of the invasion). But the entire thrust of the article is to convince the reader that the vast majority of deaths which have occurred in Iraq have been as a result of "sectarian violence." Deaths from U.S. bombs, tanks and other weapons aren't even mentioned, nor is the fact that it was the U.S. invasion which unleashed the sectarian violence in the first place.

The plain fact of the matter, obscured rather than revealed by this article, is that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are now dead (and millions more still displaced) as the result of the invasion of Iraq by the U.S. and its allies. The blood of every single one is on the hands of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, Colin Powell, and the Republicans and Democrats in Congress who both enabled the invasion and have kept it and the occupation going since then.

Statement against impending military offensive by Indian govt in indigenous people’s areas

October 17, 2009

Sanhati, a collective of activists/academics who have been working in solidarity with peoples’ movements in India by providing information and analysis, took the initiative to bring together voices from around the world against the Government of India’s planned military offensive in Central India. A statement and a background note were drafted in consultation with Indian activists, and duly circulated for endorsement - several eminent intellectuals/academics along with hundreds of others from across the world have endorsed. Attached to the statement and signatories, is a background note providing the political perspective of this conflict.

To Dr. Manmohan Singh Prime Minister, Government of India, South Block, Raisina Hill, New Delhi, India-110 011.

We are deeply concerned by the Indian government’s plans for launching an unprecedented military offensive by army and paramilitary forces in the adivasi (indigenous people)-populated regions of Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Orissa and West Bengal states. The stated objective of the offensive is to "liberate" these areas from the influence of Maoist rebels. Such a military campaign will endanger the lives and livelihoods of millions of the poorest people living in those areas, resulting in massive displacement, destitution and human rights violation of ordinary citizens. To hunt down the poorest of Indian citizens in the name of trying to curb the shadow of an insurgency is both counter-productive and vicious. The ongoing campaigns by paramilitary forces, buttressed by anti-rebel militias, organised and funded by government agencies, have already created a civil war like situation in some parts of Chattisgarh and West Bengal, with hundreds killed and thousands displaced. The proposed armed offensive will not only aggravate the poverty, hunger, humiliation and insecurity of the adivasi people, but also spread it over a larger region.

Grinding poverty and abysmal living conditions that has been the lot of India’s adivasi population has been complemented by increasing state violence since the neoliberal turn in the policy framework of the Indian state in the early 1990s. Whatever little access the poor had to forests, land, rivers, common pastures, village tanks and other common property resources has come under increasing attack by the Indian state in the guise of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and other "development" projects related to mining, industrial development, Information Technology parks, etc. The geographical terrain, where the government’s military offensive is planned to be carried out, is very rich in natural resources like minerals, forest wealth and water, and has been the target of large scale appropriation by several corporations. The desperate resistance of the local indigenous people against their displacement and dispossession has in many cases prevented the government-backed corporations from making inroads into these areas. We fear that the government’s offensive is also an attempt to crush such popular resistances in order to facilitate the entry and operation of these corporations and to pave the way for unbridled exploitation of the natural resources and the people of these regions. It is the widening levels of disparity and the continuing problems of social deprivation and structural violence, and the state repression on the non-violent resistance of the poor and marginalized against their dispossession, which gives rise to social anger and unrest and takes the form of political violence by the poor. Instead of addressing the source of the problem, the Indian state has decided to launch a military offensive to deal with this problem: kill the poor and not the poverty, seems to be the implicit slogan of the Indian government.

We feel that it would deliver a crippling blow to Indian democracy if the government tries to subjugate its own people militarily without addressing their grievances. Even as the short-term military success of such a venture is very doubtful, enormous misery for the common people is not in doubt, as has been witnessed in the case of numerous insurgent movements in the world. We urge the Indian government to immediately withdraw the armed forces and stop all plans for carrying out such military operations that has the potential for triggering a civil war which will inflict widespread misery on the poorest and most vulnerable section of the Indian population and clear the way for the plundering of their resources by corporations. We call upon all democratic-minded people to join us in this appeal.

National Signatories

-Arundhati Roy, Author and Activist, India
-Amit Bhaduri, Professor Emeritus, Center for Economic Studies and Planning, JNU, India
-Sandeep Pandey, Social Activist, N.A.P.M., India
-Manoranjan Mohanty,Professor of Social Development, Council for Social Development, India
-Prashant Bhushan, Supreme Court Advocate, India
-Nandini Sundar, Professor of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics,University of Delhi, India
-Colin Gonzalves, Supreme Court Advocate, India
-Arvind Kejriwal, Social Activist, India
-Arundhati Dhuru, Activist, N.A.P.M., India
-Swapna Banerjee-Guha, Department of Geography, University of Mumbai, India
-Anand Patwardhan, Film Maker, India
-Dipankar Bhattachararya, General Secretary, Communist Party of India(Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, India
-Bernard D’Mello, Associate Editor, Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), India
-Sumit Sarkar, Retired Professor of History, Delhi University, India
-Tanika Sarkar, Professor of History, J.N.U., India
-Gautam Navlakha, Consulting Editor, Economic and Political Weekly, India
-Madhu Bhaduri, Ex-ambassador
-Sumanta Banerjee, Writer, India
-Dr. Vandana Shiva, Philosopher, Writer, Environmental Activist, India
-M.V. Ramana, Program on Science and Global Security,Princeton University, USA

-Full list of signatures - http://sanhati.com/excerpted/1824/
-If you are interested to endorse, please email sanhatiindia@sanhati.com with your name and professional/organisational affiliation


It has been widely reported in the press that the Indian government is planning an unprecedented military offensive against alleged Maoist rebels, using paramilitary and counter-insurgency forces, possibly the Indian Armed Forces and even the Indian Air Force. This military operation is going to be carried out in the forested and semi-forested rural areas of the states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand,West Bengal and Maharashtra, populated mainly by the tribal (indigenous) people of India. Reportedly, the offensive has been planned in consultation with US counter-insurgency agencies. To put the Indian government’s proposed military offensive in proper perspective one needs to understand the economic, social and political background to the conflict. In particular, there are three dimensions of the crisis that needs to be emphasized, because it is often overlooked: (a) the development failure of the post-colonial Indian state, (b) the continued existence and often exacerbation of the structural violence faced by the poor and marginalized, and (c) the full-scale assault on the meager resource base of the peasantry and the tribal (indigenous people) in the name of “development”. Let us look at each of these in turn, but before we do so it needs to be stressed that the facts we mention below are not novel; they are well-known if only conveniently forgotten. Most of these facts were pointed out by the April 2008 Report of the Expert Group of the Planning Commission of the Indian Government (headed by retired civil servant D. Bandopadhyay) to study “development challenges in extremist affected areas”.

The post-colonial Indian State, both in its earlier Nehruvian and the more recent neoliberal variant, has failed miserably to solve the basic problems of poverty, employment and income, housing, primary health care, education and inequality and social discrimination of the people of the country. The utter failure of the development strategy of the post-colonial State is the ground on which the current conflict arises. To recount some well known but oft-forgotten facts, recall that about 77 percent of the Indian population in 2004-05 had a per capita daily consumption expenditure of less than Rs. 20; that is less than 50 cents by the current nominal exchange rate between the rupee and the US dollar and about $2 in purchasing power parity terms. According to the 2001 Census, even 62 years after political independence, only about 42 percent of Indian households have access to electricity. About 80 percent of the households do not have access to safe drinking water; that is a staggering 800 million people lacking access to potable water.

What is the condition of the working people in the country? 93 percent of the workforce, the overwhelming majority of the working people in India, are what the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) called “informal workers”; these workers lack any employment security, work security and social security. About 58 percent of them work in the agricultural sector and the rest is engaged in manufacturing and services. Wages are very low and working conditions extremely onerous, leading to persistent and deep poverty, which has been increasing over the last decade and a half in absolute terms: the number of what the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) called the “poor and vulnerable” increased from 811 million in 1999-00 to 836 million in 2004-05. Since majority of the working people still work in the agricultural sector, the economic stagnation in agriculture is a major cause for the continued poverty of the vast majority of the people. Since the Indian state did not undertake land reforms in any meaningful sense, the distribution of land remains extremely skewed to this day. Close to 60 percent of rural households are effectively landless; and extreme economic vulnerability and despair among the small and marginal peasantry has resulted in the largest wave of suicides in history: between 1997 and 2007, 182,936 farmers committed suicide. This is the economic setting of the current conflict.

But in this sea of poverty and misery, there are two sections of the population that are much worse off than the rest: the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) population. On almost all indicators of social well being, the SCs and STs are worse off than the general population: poverty rates are higher, landlessness is higher, infant mortality rates are higher, levels of formal education are lower, and so on. To understand this differential in social and economic deprivation we need to look at the second aspect of the current crisis that we had alluded to: structural violence.

There are two dimensions of this structural violence: (a) oppression, humiliation and discrimination along the lines of caste and ethnicity and (b) regular harassment, violence and torture by arms of the State. For the SC and ST population, therefore, the violence of poverty, hunger and abysmal living conditions has been complemented and worsened by the structural violence that they encounter daily. It is the combination of the two, general poverty and the brutality and injustice of the age old caste system, kept alive by countless social practices despite numerous legislative measures by the Indian state, that makes this the most economically deprived and socially marginalized section of the Indian population. This social discrimination, humiliation and oppression is of course very faithfully reflected in the behavior of the police and other law-enforcing agencies of the State towards the poor SC and ST population, who are constantly harassed, beaten up and arrested on the slightest pretext. For this population, therefore, the State has not only totally neglected their economic and social development, it is an oppressor and exploiter. While the SC and ST population together account for close to a quarter of the Indian population, they are the overwhelming majority in the areas where the Indian government proposes to carry out its military offensive against alleged Maoist rebels. This, then, is the social background of the current conflict.

This brings us to the third dimension of the problem: unprecedented attack on the access of the marginalized and poor to common property resources. Compounding the persistent poverty and the continuing structural violence has been the State’s recent attempt to usurp the meager resource base of the poor and marginalized, a resource base that was so far largely outside the ambit of the market. The neoliberal turn in the policy framework of the Indian state since the mid 1980s has, therefore, only further worsened the problems of economic vulnerability and social deprivation. Whatever little access the poor had to forests, land, rivers, common pastures, village tanks and other common property resources to cushion their inevitable slide into poverty and immiserization has come under increasing attack by the Indian state in the guise of so-called development projects: Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and other “development” projects related to mining, industrial development, Information Technology parks, etc. Despite numerous protests from people and warnings from academics, the Indian State has gone ahead with the establishment of 531 SEZs. The SEZs are areas of the country where labour and tax laws have been consciously weakened, if not totally abrogated by the State to “attract” foreign and domestic capital; SEZs, almost by definition, require a large and compact tract of land, and thus inevitably mean the loss of land, and thus livelihood, by the peasantry. To the best of our knowledge, there have been no serious, rigorous cost-benefit analysis of these projects to date; but this does not prevent the government from claiming that the benefits of these projects, in terms of employment generation and income growth, will far outweigh the costs of revenue loss from foregone taxes and lost livelihoods due to the assault on land.

The opposition to the acquisition of land for these SEZ and similar projects have another dimension to it. Dr. Walter Fernandes, who has studied the process of displacement in post-independence India in great detail, suggests that around 60 million people have faced displacement between 1947 and 2004; this process of displacement has involved about 25 million hectares of land, which includes 7 million hectares of forests and 6 million hectares of other common property resources. How many of these displaced people have been resettled? Only one in every three. Thus, there is every reason for people not to believe the government’s claims that those displaced from their land will be, in any meaningful sense, resettled. This is one of the most basic reasons for the opposition to displacement and dispossession.

But, how have the rich done during this period of unmitigated disaster for the poor? While the poor have seen their incomes and purchasing power tumble down precipitously in real terms, the rich have, by all accounts, prospered beyond their wildest dreams since the onset of the liberalization of the Indian economy. There is widespread evidence from recent research that the levels of income and wealth inequality in India has increased steadily and drastically since the mid 1980s. A rough overview of this growing inequality is found by juxtaposing two well known facts: (a) in 2004-05, 77 percent of the population spent less than Rs. 20 a day on consumption expenditure; and (b) according to the annual World Wealth Report released by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini in 2008, the millionaire population in India grew in 2007 by 22.6 per cent from the previous year, which is higher than in any other country in the world.

It is, thus, the development disaster of the Indian State, the widening levels of disparity and the continuing problems of social deprivation and structural violence when compounded by the all-out effort to restrict access to common property resources that, according to the Expert Group of the Planning Commission, give rise to social anger, desperation and unrest. In almost all cases the affected people try to ventilate their grievances using peaceful means of protest; they take our processions, they sit on demonstrations, they submit petitions. The response of the State is remarkably consistent in all these cases: it cracks down on the peaceful protesters, sends in armed goons to attack the people, slaps false charges against the leaders and arrests them and often also resorts to police firing and violence to terrorize the people. We only need to remember Singur, Nandigram, Kalinganagar and countless other instances where peaceful and democratic forms of protest were crushed by the state with ruthless force. It is, thus, the action of the State that blocks off all forms of democratic protest and forces the poor and dispossessed to take up arms to defend their rights, as has been pointed out by social activists like Arundhati Roy. The Indian government’s proposed military offensive will repeat that story all over again. Instead of addressing the source of the conflict, instead of addressing the genuine grievances of the marginalized people along the three dimensions that we have pointed to, the Indian state seems to have decided to opt for the extremely myopic option of launching a military offensive.


Effects Of 'Peaceful' Nuclear Tests Felt Decades Later

The ''nuclear lake'' near the village of Sarzhal, formed after a test to study the feasibility of creating reservoirs with nuclear explosions

September 21, 2009
By Antoine Blua

During the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union each explored the possibility of using nuclear explosions for "peaceful" purposes.

Their programs yielded little real benefit, but left behind radioactive footprints and trails of contamination from the nearly 150 tests from the projects -- "Plowshare" in the United States and, more cryptically, "Program No. 7" in the Soviet Union.

Decades later, in one corner of the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, residents near one of those former test sites say authorities are ignoring their complaints about serious health effects.

The Soviet experiment near the village of Sarzhal, meant to study the feasibility of creating water reservoirs, created a 430-meter wide crater that formed a lake.

Villagers say the area is still radioactive. They say the water from what they call the "atomic lake" contaminates the ground water they need to survive.

Residents believe radioactivity in the lake's water has caused heart problems, high blood pressure, and birth defects.

"Nobody cares about us," Sarzhal resident Kayrash Madenov tells RFE/RL's Kazakh Service. "I think there's no such place as the village of Sarzhal on the map. We became the part of the dead testing site. Authorities probably think that there's no life here."

Madenov says authorities have ignored locals' concerns.

Program No. 7

The Soviet Union's program was far bigger and longer-lived, thanks partly to the Soviet practice of keeping sensitive information secret and a smaller concern for health and safety issues.

The Program for the Utilization of Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy, or "Program No. 7," conducted 122 nuclear tests between 1965 and 1988.

Soviet scientists chose the Semipalatinsk nuclear test field in northeastern Kazakhstan to conduct their first and most powerful nuclear explosion under Program No. 7.

On January 15, 1965, a 140 kiloton underground charge -- about nine times the size of the Hiroshima blast -- detonated at the intersection of the dry beds of the Chagan and Ashy-Su rivers.

Plowshare Program

In the United States, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission announced its program for peaceful nuclear explosions (PNEs) in 1958. The Plowshare Program, a reference to the biblical imperative to turn "swords into plowshares," envisaged creating canals, harbors, and dams, as well as using nuclear explosions for open-pit mining and forming underground oil and natural-gas reservoirs.

Washington and Moscow had agreed to a nuclear weapons-testing moratorium at the time, so no nuclear explosions were conducted for the following three years.

After the moratorium ended in 1961, the Plowshare Program kicked off with a 3-kiloton test underneath a salt bed deposit in New Mexico. Scientists wanted to study the possibility of converting heat from the explosion into steam for producing electric power. But the blast unexpectedly vented smoke, steam, and radioactive material straight into the atmosphere.

The United States conducted 26 more nuclear tests under the Plowshare Program over the next 12 years. Peaceful nuclear explosions turned out to be most useful for stimulating natural gas production. But economic and environmental concerns forced the program to end in 1975.


A Profile In Courage: Turkey Takes A Stand For Justice


By Dr. Alan Sabrosky - October 16, 2009

There is always something compelling about a "David and Goliath" confrontation. Most of us prefer winners to losers, and almost everyone feels a thrill when the underdog takes a stand and prevails.

This is the surprising situation now unfolding in the rising drama of the Goldstone Report on Gaza. Goliath — in this instance, Israel plus the US in its usual role of Bibi Netanyahu's "Uncle Tom" — assumed that broad threats and a predictable US veto on the UN Security Council would kill that report. And last week, that seemed likely to happen.

But David — in the form of Turkey's forthright Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan — isn't buying that at all. His courageous stance has a good chance of not only bringing the Goldstone Report dramatically into view so publicly that even the Jewish-dominated US mainstream media cannot ignore it, but also opening the political sewer that is Israel's oppression of the Palestinians for all the world — especially the American public — to see.

Genesis in Gaza

The genesis of this, of course, was Israel's brutal assault on Gaza in the weeks before Obama assumed office, and its subsequent condemnation not by the UN Security Council (its American puppet-patron prevented that), but in a report prepared by a UN Human Rights Council commission headed by a respected Jewish jurist from South Africa, Richard Goldstone.

Yet even before that report appeared, Erdogan had already clashed with Israel over its assault on Gaza, walking out from a debate with Israeli President Shimon Peres in January 2009. He has continued his criticism of Israeli actions in Gaza and against Palestinians since that time, excluding Israel from participating in a recent NATO exercise, and this week continuing his condemnation of Israel for using incendiaries against civilians and harming children during the Gaza onslaught.

Turkey's position is potentially critical here. As a long-standing member of NATO and a secular Moslem country having formal diplomatic relations with Israel, it cannot easily be dismissed by its critics as an anti-Semitic rogue. Erdogan's position on this issue is popular at home, and evidentally supported by the Turkish military. He also makes no bones about calling Israeli and US actions what they are, something so much of the world — and especially most Arab countries, whose leaders ought in their own self-interest to know better — take great pains to ignore, or even to facilitate.

On to the United Nations

It now appears that the Goldstone Report will be formally debated by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). This is certainly where the US prefers the matter to end, if it has to go anywhere within the UN, asserting that the report is "deeply flawed" because in practice it fails to totally exonerate Israel (it must be SO hard for US Ambassador Rice to look in the mirror without becoming ill after parroting such remarks, but perhaps she is used to it by now….). And that may happen.

But it need not do so. At this point, people in three critical UN positions all want the Gaza report (and implicitly, the Israeli-Palestinian Question) to be debated now. They are the Secretary-General of the UN, the President of the UN General Assembly, and the President of the UN Security Council. This is an unusual combination, and one not likely to reappear anytime soon, which makes the speedy execution of the report's recommendations all the more important.

Moreover, the flip-flop of the Palestinian Authority on this issue, first asking for the report to be deferred and then reversing itself in the face of mounting criticism from Palestinians and others, may work for the better. The uproar created a degree of general public awareness of the whole controversy, and brought many Palestinians from both Hamas and Fatah together more than I have seen in years.

Looking Beyond the US Veto

Like most bullies who suddenly see justice approaching, Israel's government alternates among bluster, truculence and threats, still expecting good old Uncle Sam — doting, very strong, and not very bright at all — to intercede at the first and last moments alike. And you can be sure that AIPAC and company will be doing their utmost to make that happen.

So the rest of the world should appreciate two facts. One is that the Israeli threat to forgo peace talks with the Palestinians is both irrelevant and worthless. It is irrelevant because the hapless Palestinian Authority with which Israel might be talking does not represent or speak for the large majority of the Palestinian people. It is worthless because peace to Israel means submission to its will: Israel will return no territories, evacuate no settlements, allow no Palestinian refugees to return, and negotiate nothing except the incidental details of its dominance.

The other is that there is no inherent reason for the Goldstone Report to die in the Human Rights Council, or even in the Security Council. Erdogan has indicated a willingness for Turkey, which holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month, to bring it before that body regardless of what transpires in the HRC. That would move it a step further, where after presumably acrimonious discussion, it would be vetoed by the US, perhaps with Britain and/or France joining it.

At that point, the President of the Security Council, in concert with the President of the General Assembly and the UN Secretary-General, should be encouraged to make every effort in their own spheres of responsibility to bring the debate before the General Assembly under the provisions of UNGA 377A (the "Uniting for Peace Resolution").
An artifact of the Cold War designed to circumvent Soviet vetoes, it is little known now but absolutely applicable to the smoldering situation in the Middle East. Its great virtues are that it gives the General Assembly the enforcement powers normally within the purview of the Security Council, and vetoes do not apply.

This is a unique opportunity. Anticipate it. Prepare for it. Make the most of it. Win.

*Alan Sabrosky (Ph.D, University of Michigan) is a ten-year US Marine Corps veteran and a graduate of the US Army War College. He can be contacted at docbrosk@comcast.net


Israeli Organ Trafficking and Theft: From Moldova to Palestine

By Alison Weir - Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

In August Sweden’s largest daily newspaper published an article containing grisly evidence suggesting that Israel had been taking Palestinian internal organs. The article, by veteran photojournalist Donald Bostrom, called for an international investigation to discover the facts.1

In this photograph taken March 22, 2007, Vasile Dimineti holds a picture of his 24-year-old son, who died a year after selling his kidney. The family lives in the impoverished Moldovan village of Mingir, where about 40 of its 7,000 residents are thought to have sold a kidney. AFP photo/Daniel Mihailescu/Files

Israel immediately accused Bostrom and the newspaper of “anti-Semitism,” and charged that suggesting Israelis could be involved in the illicit removal of body parts constituted a modern “blood libel” (medieval stories of Jews killing people for their blood).2

Numerous Israeli partisans repeated these accusations, including Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin, who asserted that the story was “merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of European funded and promoted anti-Israel hate.”3 Others suggested that the newspaper was “irresponsible” for running such an article.4

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 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 and articles on organ trafficking. She is the pundit mainstream media call upon when they need expert commentary on the topic.5

While Scheper-Hughes emphasizes that traffickers and procurers come from numerous nations and ethnicities, including Americans and Arabs, she is unflinchingly honest in speaking about the Israeli connection:

“Israel is at the top,” she states. “It has tentacles reaching out worldwide.”6

In a lecture last year sponsored by New York’s PBS 13 Forum, Scheper-Hughes explained that Israeli organ traffickers, “had and still 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.”

Lest this sound simply like a successful international concern, it’s important to understand the nature of such a business.

As Scheper-Hughes describes it, organ trafficking consists of “paying the poor and the hungry to slowly dismantle their bodies.”

Organ traffickers prey on the world’s poorest, most desperate citizens—slum dwellers, inhabitants of dying villages, people without means or hope. Traffickers promise them what seem like astronomical sums of money (from $1,000 to $10,000)—which they frequently don’t even deliver—in return for vital internal organs.

For traffickers, human body parts are commodities, to be cut out of the bodies of the poor and sold to the rich. The organ “donors” receive no follow-up care and end up worse off on many levels—physically, financially, psychologically, socially—than even their original tragic situation. Sometimes they are coerced into such “donations.”

Organ sales have been illegal in most countries for years. The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which covers prevention, enforcement and sanctions in trafficking of humans, includes in its definition of human exploitation the extraction of organs for profit.7 Israel finally passed legislation against organ trafficking in 2008.8, 9

In her Forum 13 lecture Scheper-Hughes discussed the two motivations of Israeli traffickers. One was greed, she said. The other was somewhat chilling: “Revenge, restitution—reparation for the Holocaust.”

She described speaking with Israeli brokers who 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.’”

Scheper-Hughes says that she “even heard doctors saying that.”

For many years Israelis in need of an internal organ have gone on what experts call “transplant tourism”—traveling to other nations to obtain internal organs. Sometimes body parts are obtained from those freshly dead; more often from the desperately needy. While affluent people from numerous countries and ethnicities engage in this practice, Israel is unique in several significant ways.

First, Israelis engage in this 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-fifth that of Europe, according to BBC. This is in part because there has been a widespread impression that Jewish religious law prohibits transplants as a “desecration of the body.”10 The Israeli news service Ynet reports, “the percentage of organs donated among Jews is the lowest of all the ethnic groups.”11

Third, the Israeli government has enabled the practice. For many years the Israeli health system subsidized its citizens’ “transplant holidays,” reimbursing Israelis $80,000 for medical operations abroad. Much of the remaining costs could often be obtained from government-subsidized12 Israeli insurance plans.13 In addition, Israel’s Ministry of Defense was directly involved.

Scheper-Hughes discussed Israeli organ trafficking in detail in 2001 in published testimony to the Subcommittee on International Relations and Human Rights of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.14 In her extensive testimony, Scheper-Hughes stated that although Israel had become a pariah for its organ policies, Israeli officials exhibited “amazing tolerance…toward outlawed ‘transplant tourism.’”

She described an international syndicate which was “organized through a local business corporation in conjunction with a leading transplant surgeon, operating out of a major medical center not far from Tel Aviv,” and which had forged links with transplant surgeons in Turkey, Russia, Moldavia, Estonia, Georgia, Romania, and New York City.

The Israeli Ministry of Defense was directly involved in what Scheper-Hughes called Israel’s “‘illicit [in other nations] national ‘program’ of transplant tourism…Members of the Ministry of Defense or those closely related to them” accompanied transplant junkets.

In her Forum 13 lecture, Scheper-Hughes said that investigating Israeli organ trafficking over the past decade had taken her “from country to country to country to country.”

One of these is Moldova, the poorest country in Europe—and homeland of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman—where 90 percent of the people earn less than $2 a day. A 2001 BBC report on organ trafficking described the situation: “Hundreds of Israelis have created a production line that starts in the villages of Moldova, where men today are walking around with one kidney.15

Another is Brazil, where a legislative commission found that 30 [it may actually have been as high as 60] Brazilians from impoverished neighborhoods had sold their kidneys to a trafficking ring headed by Israelis, with Israeli citizens receiving almost all of the organs, and the Israeli government providing most of the funding.16

The ring had also begun inquiring about buying other vital organs from poor residents, including lungs, livers and corneas.17

An Inter Press Service (IPS) news story from the time reported that Scheper-Hughes testified to the commission that international trafficking of human organs had begun some 12 years earlier, promoted by Zaki Shapira, head of kidney transplant services at Bellinson Medical Center, near Tel Aviv.

Scheper-Hughes reported that Shapira had performed more than 300 kidney transplants, sometimes accompanying his patients to other countries such as Turkey. The recipients were very wealthy or had very good health insurance, and the “donors” very poor people from Eastern Europe, the Philippines and other developing countries.

The chairman of the Brazilian commission, physician Raimundo Pimentel, was outraged at Israeli policies, pointing out that trafficking can only take place on a large scale if there is a major source of financing, such as the Israeli health system. Pimentel charged that the resources provided by the Israeli health system “were a determining factor” in enabling a network that preyed on society’s poorest populations.

In 2004 there were reports that Israeli traffickers had added China to their target donor populations.18 In one recent case an Israeli paid an organ broker $100,000 for a kidney transplant in China from an 18-year-old Chinese girl. She received $5,000 and died following surgery.19

New York Times reporter Larry Rohter pointed out that allowing brokers to operate with few restrictions benefited Israel “by exporting Israel’s organ shortage overseas.” Rohter cites a kidney specialist at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem who explained that patients who go abroad “‘save the country a lot of money; not only in terms of what doesn’t have to be spent on dialysis, but also by opening places for other people who are on the list.’”20

Many people find governmental complicity in organ trafficking deeply troubling on moral and philosophical grounds.

As Scheper-Hughes testified: “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.” She believes that the risks and benefits of organ transplant surgery should be more equally distributed among nations, ethnic groups, and social classes.

Organ theft

It is difficult to know how often Israeli trafficking involves outright theft of vital organs from living human beings.

It is not rare for the “donor” to receive little or none of the compensation promised. For example, in 2007 Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported that two Israelis had confessed to persuading Palestinians “from the Galilee and central Israel who were developmentally challenged or mentally ill to agree to have a kidney removed for payment.” According to the Haaretz report, after the organ had been taken the traffickers refused to pay for them.

On occasion, people are coerced into giving up their organs. For example, Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, the alleged Brooklyn trafficker recently arrested in an FBI sweep in New Jersey, reportedly carried a gun. When a potential organ seller would try to back out, Rosenbaum would use his finger to simulate firing a gun at the person’s head.

The Rosenbaum case, reportedly part of a ring centered in Israel, is the first case of trafficking to be prosecuted in the US. His arrest and the substantial evidence against him may have surprised State Department Countermisinformation Director Todd Leventhal, who had characterized organ trafficking as an “urban legend,” stating, “It would be impossible to successfully conceal a clandestine organ-trafficking ring.” Leventhal called such reports “irresponsible and totally unsubstantiated.”

More often organ theft involves dead bodies—or those alleged to be dead.

Israel’s very first successful heart transplant, in fact, used a stolen heart.

In 1968 Avraham Sadegat unexpectedly died two days after being hospitalized in Beilinson Hospital in Israel’s Petah Tikva for a stroke. When his family finally 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 these they discovered that the chest cavity was stuffed with bandages and the heart was missing.21

During this time, the Israeli press was heralding the historic heart transplant, performed by a team of surgeons who were to become some of Israel’s most celebrated physicians, among them Dr. Morris Levy, Dr. Bernardo Vidne, and Dr Jack Solomon, who harvested the heart.22

When the family began to ask questions, the hospital denied any connection. After the man’s wife and brother had raised a media furor, petitioned three cabinet ministers—and agreed to sign a document that they would not sue—the hospital finally admitted it was Sadegat’s heart that had been used.

Haaretz quoted Sadegat’s tearful wife: “They treated him like an alley cat. From the moment he entered the hospital, they apparently saw him only as a potential source of organs and not as a man in need of treatment. They only thought about how to do the deed without us knowing.”

Sadegat’s medical condition before his heart was removed has not been made public. It is possible—perhaps probable—that up until his heart was removed it was still beating; according to an Israeli media report, “once a heart stops beating, it is no longer fit for transplantation.”23

Even if he was what is now termed “brain dead,” the general view is that family members should at least be a party to decisions regarding the patient: first, whether to “pull the plug,” and, second, whether to donate an organ. At the time, however, Israeli law allowed organs to be harvested without the family’s consent.

Forty years later the hospital held an anniversary celebration of the transplant, despite the fact that, according to Haaretz, the heart had been obtained “through deceit and trickery.” The festivities, which honored surviving members of the transplant team, featured balloons and a red, heart-shaped cake.

In this incident of organ theft (and from a possibly living body), the family was Israeli. Had the wife and brother been Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza, they would not have possessed the power to force a confession from the hospital, and it is likely that those individuals today calling the Swedish article a “blood libel” or “irresponsible journalism” would have applied the same epithets to journalists reporting questions concerning the historic Israeli heart transplant—if any reporters even bothered or dared to do so.

Yehuda Hiss, keeper of the morgue

Perhaps one of the most long-term and high-level cases of organ theft—and one that involves Palestinian as well as Israeli organs—concerns an extraordinarily high official: Dr. Yehuda Hiss, Israel’s chief pathologist and, from 1988 through 2004, director of Israel’s state morgue, the L. Greenberg Institute of Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir.

An early indication of malfeasance came to light in 1998 and concerned a Scottish man named Alisdair Sinclair, who had died under questionable circumstances after being taken into custody at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport.

The Israeli story, as reported by the Israeli news magazine Jerusalem Report, is that Sinclair had confessed to transporting drugs, even though none were found, although he was in possession of 9,000 German marks ($5,000). He then, the police claim, hanged himself by looping his shoelaces and T-shirt around a towel bar about a meter off the ground and slipped the improvised noose around his neck. From a squatting position, the police story goes, he repeatedly threw his bodyweight downward, choking himself.

Sinclair did not die, however, and medics were able to restore a heartbeat. He was transferred to a hospital where, according to the magazine report, the hospital’s associate director, Dr. Yigal Halperin, said that Sinclair “had suffered irreversible brain damage, and there was little doctors could do for him. Left in a corner of the emergency room, he died at 7 p.m. [It’s unknown whether he had been put on life support.] His corpse was transferred to the Institute for Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir for an autopsy.”

Afterwards, Israeli authorities located Sinclair’s family and gave them three weeks to dispose of the body. They suggested that he be buried in a Christian cemetery in Israel, pointing out that this would be one-third the cost of shipping the body back to Scotland. However, the grieving family scraped up the money to bring him home.

They had a second autopsy performed by Glasgow University, only to discover that Sinclair’s heart and a small bone in his throat called the hyoid were missing. The British Embassy filed a complaint with Israel, and a heart was sent to Scotland. According to the Jerusalem Report, the family “wanted the Forensic Institute to pay for a DNA test to confirm that this heart was indeed their brother’s, but the Institute’s director, Prof. Jehuda Hiss, refused, citing the prohibitive cost.”

Despite a protest from the British government, Israel refused to supply Hiss’s pathology findings or the police report. According to the British government and a report in the Israeli media, around the time of Sinclair’s death a doctor at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital put in a request for a hyoid bone for research purposes—and eventually received a bill for shipping costs.24 Israel retained Sinclair’s $5,000.

Through the years Hiss and the Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic medicine continued to be accused of organ theft. In 2000 the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot published an investigative report alleging that Hiss had been extracting organs without permission and then packing the bodies with broomsticks and cotton wool to fill in cavities before burial. The report charged that under Hiss the institute had been involved in organ sales of body parts—“legs, thighs, ovaries, breasts and testicles,” allegedly to medical institutions.

In 2001 a district judge found the Institute had performed hundreds of autopsies and had removed body parts without the families’ permission—and sometimes in direct opposition to their expressed wishes.25 One report described a “museum of skulls” at the institute.

Little was done, however, and complaints continued—often by the parents of dead Israeli soldiers horrified to discover that body parts had been taken from their sons. Finally, in 2004 Israel’s health minister transferred directorship of the morgue itself away from Hiss. Hiss, however, retained his position as Israel’s chief pathologist, a post it appears he holds to this day.26, 27

Hiss had also been connected with two previous national scandals, both of which may have involved powerful people in Israel, which may account for his longevity in Israel’s medical establishment despite years of proven wrongdoing.

The first controversy concerned the “Yemenite Children’s Affair”—a situation, largely from the early 1950s, in which a thousand babies and small children of recent immigrants to Israel had “disappeared.”

When the immigrants had arrived as part of Israel’s “ingathering of the exiles,” babies were immediately taken from their mothers and placed in children’s houses. Many were hospitalized for a variety of ills, and hundreds died, their deaths coming in such large numbers that they were announced over loudspeakers.

The distraught parents often never saw the body or received a death certificate, and there were growing suspicions that not all had died—some, it was believed, had been “given” to Ashkenazi parents. One author writes: “It was a well-known fact within the Jewish community in the United States that if a family wanted a child they could go to [baby brokers, both rabbis] and simply pay the necessary fee.”28

Some Israeli investigators have found considerable evidence for these charges, and indications of complicity at multiple levels of the power structure. In fact, one researcher charges: “People in positions of power at the time that the State of Israel was established profited from the abduction and sale of children from poor immigrant families.”29

Hiss’ connection comes in 1997, when Israel finally had formed a committee to investigate the disappearance of Yemenite and other Jewish children in the years 1948-1954. Among those testifying before this committee was a California woman who had come to Israel searching for her biological mother—and, according to DNA testing by a geneticist at Hebrew University, had found her.

The committee demanded that another DNA test be conducted at the Abu Kabir forensic institute. As at least one observer predicted ahead of time, Hiss’s test came up negative, and the government was allegedly exonerated, despite the fact that the geneticist who had conducted the first tests stood by his results.30

Hiss also plays a role in some conspiracy theories regarding the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, who had begun a peace process with Palestinians. In March 1999 a group of academics presented findings alleging that Hiss had submitted false evidence to the commission that investigated the killing.31

Palestinian Victims

Israelis have also targeted Palestinians, a particularly vulnerable population on numerous levels.

In her congressional subcommittee testimony, Scheper-Hughes reported that before he moved overseas, Israeli hospital transplant head Zaki Shapira had located kidney sellers “amongst strapped Palestinian workers in Gaza and the West Bank.” She said that his “hand was slapped by an ethics board,” and he moved his practice overseas.

For decades numerous Palestinians and others have charged Israel with taking body parts from Palestinians they had wounded or killed.

In her subcommittee testimony, Scheper-Hughes testified that toward the end of the apartheid period in South Africa, “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 Washington Report for Middle East Affairs article by Mary Barrett (see “Autopsies and Executions,” April 1990 Washington Report, p. 21) reported “widespread anxiety over organ thefts which has gripped Gaza and the West Bank since the intifada began in December of 1987.”

Barrett quotes a forensic physician: “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?”

A 2002 news story from IRNA reported that three Palestinian boys aged 14-15 had been killed by Israeli forces on Dec. 30, their bodies finally being returned for burial on Jan. 6. According to the report: “shortly before burial, Palestinian medical authorities examined the bodies and found out that the main vital organs were missing from the bodies.” In an interview on Al Jazeera, President Yasser Arafat held up photos of the boys, saying, “They murder our kids and use their organs as spare parts.”

Journalist Khalid Amayreh, recently investigating this topic further, found that “several other Palestinians gave a similar narrative, recounting how they received the bodies of their murdered relatives, mostly men in their early twenties, with vital organs taken away by the Israeli authorities.”

Israel has consistently characterized such accusations as “anti-Semitic,” and numerous other journalists have discounted them as exaggerations.

However, according to the pro-Israel Forward magazine, the truth of these charges was, in fact, confirmed by an Israeli governmental investigation a number of years ago.

In a recent story critical of the Swedish article, the Forward actually confirmed its main point, that Israel had been taking the body parts of slain Palestinians. The Forward article reported that one of the governmental investigations into Hiss had revealed that “he seemed to view every body that ended up in his morgue, whether Israeli or Palestinian, as fair game for organ harvesting.”32

Over the years, a great many Palestinian bodies have “ended up” in the Israeli morgue. In numerous cases Israeli occupation forces have taken custody of wounded or dead Palestinians. Sometimes their bodies are never returned to their grieving families—Palestinian NGOs say there are at least 250 such cases.

In other cases the bodies have been returned to the families days later, with crudely stitched naval-to-chin incisions. On many occasions Israeli soldiers have delivered the bodies late at night and required the bereaved families to bury their children, husbands, and brothers immediately, under Israeli military guard, sometimes with the electricity shut off.

In 2005 an Israeli soldier33 described a military doctor who gave “medics lessons in anatomy” using the bodies of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces. Haaretz reports: “The soldier said that the Palestinian’s body had been riddled with bullets and that some of his internal organs had spilled out. The doctor pronounced the man dead and then ‘took out a knife and began to cut off parts of the body,’ the soldier said.

“‘He explained the various parts to us—the membrane that covers the lungs, the layers of the skin, the liver, stuff like that,’ the soldier continued. ‘I didn’t say anything because I was still new in the army. Two of the medics moved away, and one of them threw up. It was all done very brutally. It was simply contempt for the body.’”34

While most Israeli investigations into organ theft have largely ignored the Palestinian component, a number of significant facts are known:

  • Palestinian organs were harvested during years of an astonishingly lax system in which the body parts even of Jewish Israelis were extracted illicitly at the national morgue by the chief pathologist and exchanged for money.
  • Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are largely a captive population. Numerous reports by highly reputable Israeli and international organizations have documented a situation in which Palestinians have few if any real rights; Israeli forces have killed civilians with impunity, imprisoned massive numbers of people without benefit of trials, and routinely abused prisoners.
  • Israeli authorities have conducted numerous autopsies of Palestinians without permission of their families, without even a semblance of public transparency, and without, it appears, accompanying reports. For example, the families of those who were taken while still alive are not provided with a medical report stating time and cause of death.
  • A very small but significant minority of Israelis, including military officers and governmental ministers, hold extremist supremacist views relevant to organ extraction. In 1996, Jewish Week reported that Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh, a leader of the Lubavitch sect of Judaism and the dean of a religious Jewish school in a West Bank settlement, stated: “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.” Ginzburgh elaborated: “Jewish life has infinite value. There is something infinitely more holy and unique about Jewish life than non-Jewish life.” [The Jewish Week, April 26, 1996, pp. 12, 31]

While most Israelis strenuously repudiate such beliefs, Rabbi Moshe Greenberg, an Israeli scholar on Jewish scriptural views on racism and ethnic chauvinism, has said, “The sad thing is, these statements are in our books.” Greenberg, who was a professor at Hebrew University, pointed out that such Talmudic texts were “purely theoretical” at the time of their writing, because Jews did not have the power to carry them out. Now, he pointed out, “they’re carried over into circumstances where Jews have a state and are empowered.”

While it is impossible to know whether any Israelis have ever acted on such religious permission to kill a non-Jew in order to provide body parts to Jews, some observers have considered this a possibility.

Dr. A. Clare Brandabur, a distinguished American scholar who has lived and traveled extensively in Palestine, writes that the information published in the Swedish article “resonates with reports from Palestinians in Gaza which I heard during the first intifada.”

She comments, “When I interviewed Dr. Haidar Abdul Shafi, head of the Red Crescent in Gaza, I mentioned to him reports of shootings of Palestinian children at times when there were no ‘clashes’ going on—a solitary 6-year-old entering his schoolyard in the morning with his bookbag on his back. The soldiers abducted the wounded child at gunpoint, then his body would be returned a few days later having undergone an ‘autopsy at Abu Kabir Hospital.’”

She says: “I asked Dr. Shafi if he had considered the possibility that these killings were being done for organ transplant, since (as Israel Shahak notes in Jewish History, Jewish Religion), it is not allowed to take Jewish organs to save a Jewish life, but it is allowed to take the organs of non-Jews to save Jewish lives. Dr. Shafi said he had suspected such things but since they had no access to the records of Abu Kabir Hospital, there was no way to verify these suspicions.”

Scheper-Hughes, in her congressional testimony, describes the danger of “organs got by any means possible including (I was told by one guilt-ridden practitioner) chemically inducing the signs of brain death in dying patients of no means and with access to minimal social support or family surveillance.”

Whether or not there have ever been organ-inspired murders in Israel as it appears there have elsewhere, numerous groups around the world are urging an international investigation into Israel’s handling of Palestinian bodies in its custody.

However, the Israeli government and its powerful advocates abroad, who regularly block investigations into Israeli actions, are doing their utmost to prevent this one.35, 36 Several lawsuits have been filed against the Swedish newspaper, the largest by Israeli lawyer and IDF officer Guy Ophir, who filed a $7.5 million lawsuit in New York against the newspaper and Bostrom. Ophir declared that Israel must “silence the reporter and the newspaper.”37

International investigations, of course, have two results: the innocent are absolved, the guilty discovered.

It is clear which category Israel believes it falls into.

Alison Weir is executive director of If Americans Knew and is on the board of the Council for the National Interest.

An Internet petition calling for an investigation can be viewed at



1 Bostrom, Donald, “Our sons plundered for their organs,” Aftonbladet, Aug. 17, 2009 , translated by Tlaxcala.


(Original Swedish version at http://www.aftonbladet.se/kultur/article5652583.ab )

2 Israel Insider, “Netanyahu to press Sweden to condemn blood libel,” Aug. 23, 2009


3 Tobin, Jonathan, “Swedish Anti-Semites Dig Up a Blood Libel,” CommentaryMagazine.com, Aug. 20, 2009


4 Cassel, Matthew, “Baseless organ theft accusations will not bring Israel to justice,” The Electronic Intifada, Aug. 24, 2009


5Scheper-Hughes, Nancy, “The Organ of Last Resort,” UNESCO, www.unesco.org, July, 2001


University of California Berkeley Anthropology Faculty CV: Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Chancellor’s Professor in Medical Anthropology, Head, Doctoral Program in Medical Anthropology, Critical Studies in Medicine, Science and the Body, Director, Organs Watch


6 Griffin, Drew and David Fitzpatrick, “Donor says he got thousands for his kidney,” CNN Special Investigations Unit, CNN, Sept. 2, 2009


7Osava, Mario, “BRAZIL: Poor Sell Organs to Trans-Atlantic Trafficking Ring,” Inter Press Service (IPS), Feb. 23, 2004


8 Yeshiva World News, “CNN: Israel a Leader in Organ Trafficking,” Sept. 3, 2009


9Chabin, Michele, “Organ Donation: Legal, But Still Controversial,” Jewish Week, April 9, 2008


10Rohter, Larry, “Tracking the Sale of a Kidney on a Path of Poverty and Hope,” The New York Times, May 23, 2004


11Shapira-Rosenberg, Efrat, “A mitzvah called organ donation,” Ynet News, June 10, 2007


12 Rohter, Larry, op. cit.


14 “Organs for Sale: China’s Growing Trade and Ultimate Violation of Prisoners’ Rights,” Hearing Before the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights of the Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives, 107th Congress, First Session, June 27, 2001, Serial No. 107–29


15 Lloyd-Roberts, Sue, “Europe’s poorest country supplying organs to its neighbours,” BBC Newsnight, 9/7/01


16 “BRAZIL: Poor Sell Organs to Trans-Atlantic Trafficking Ring,” Mario Osava, IPS, Feb. 23, 2004


17New York Times

18 “Israeli organ traffickers shift operations to China,” BioEdge, June 4, 2004

http://www.bioedge.org/index.php/bioethics/bioethics_article/7726/ http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/23/international/americas/23BRAZ.html?th=&pagewanted=print&position=

19 “CNN: Israel a Leader in Organ Trafficking,” Yeshiva World News, Sept. 3, 2009


20“Tracking the Sale of a Kidney on a Path of Poverty and Hope,” New York Times, Larry Rohter, May 23, 2004


21 “40 years after Israel’s first transplant, donor’s family says his heart was stolen,” Dana Weiler-Polak, Haaretz, Dec., 14, 2008


22“40 years on, medical staffers from Israel’s first human heart transplant reminisce about the feat,” Judy Siegel, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 7, 2008


23“Shas swing vote pushes through organ donor law,” Shahar Ilan, Haaretz, March 25, 2008


“With top rabbis’ blessing, Knesset approves organ donation law,” Shahar Ilan, Haaretz, Aug. 7, 2008


24 “Scottish Tourist’s Family Rejects Out-of-Court Settlement,” Netty C. Gross, The Jerusalem Report, Jan. 29, 2001

25“Attorney-General lodges complaint against Abu Kabir coroner,” Dan Izenbert, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 11, 2003

26 “Hiss fired for repeated body-part scandals,” Judy Siegel, Jerusalem Post, May 11, 2004

27 “Infamous Chief Pathologist to Once Again Evade Punishment,” Ezra HaLevi, Arutz Sheva Israel National News, Sept. 26, 2005


28 “Were the Children Sold?” Yechiel A. Mann, Stop-Abuse.net


29 “The Missing Children,” Yechiel A. Mann, Stop-Abuse.net


30 “Infamous Chief Pathologist to Once Again Evade Punishment,” Ezra HaLevi, Arutz Sheva Israel National News, Sept. 26, 2005


31“Infamous Chief Pathologist to Once Again Evade Punishment,” Ezra HaLevi, Arutz Sheva Israel National News, Sept. 26, 2005


32“Illicit Body-Part Sales Present Widespread Problem,”

By Rebecca Dube, Forward, Published Aug. 26, 2009, issue of Sept. 4, 2009


33“Palestinian corpse used for IDF anatomy lesson,” Amos Harel, Haaretz, Jan. 28, 2005


34 “The Swedish canard—not only smoke, but also fire,” Shraga Elam, Aug. 25, 2009 (posted Sept. 4, 2009)

(Hebrew: http://cafe.themarker.com/view.php?t=1192567 )


35 “Israeli lawyer sues Swedish paper,” JTA, Aug. 27, 2009


36 “Israeli lawyer sues ‘Aftonbladet’ in NY Court,” E.B. Solomont, Jerusalem Post, Aug. 26, 2009


37 “Israeli Reservists To Sue Swedish Newspaper,” David Bedein, The Bulletin, August 30, 2009