Organ Smuggling: How Israel Exploits Bodies Even After Death

Palestinian men disappear and are brought back being cut from the abdomen to the chin

In Israel, organ trafficking has not stopped despite a ban on the purchase and sale of human organs.

Israel is believed to play a fundamental role in human organ trafficking around the world, especially through the illegal removal and transplant of kidneys because of the low turnout of Israeli organ donors, according to a European parliament 2015 report. This document finds that Israel has a key position in the trade taking place in Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Kosovo, the United States, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador and Colombia.

Although mass media outlets fail to report this abuse, there are social media pages that describe all these crimes. More recently, in 2018 this problem resurfaced when Moshi Harel, the Israeli mastermind behind one of the largest organ smuggling networks, was arrested.

Also that year, investigative journalist Noga Klein, explained how Israel has become a hub in the international organ trade for the past decade.

How does it work?

In Israel, organ trafficking has not stopped despite a 2008 Knesset’s (Israel’s Parliament) law that bans the purchase and sale of human organs. Before that, courts were even more impotent. As a matter of fact, in a 2003 trial of members of an Israeli network of illegal organ trade, the court expressed disapproval at the prosecution’s attempt to convict the dealers because there was “no law prohibiting trade of organs.”

This law might have prevented and diminished Israel’s main place in the trading hub. It is reported by the European Parliament that new countries like Costa Rica, Colombia, Vietnam, Lebanon and Egypt are increasingly becoming involved in this illegal trade and replacing Israel in the hub. World Health Organization classifies Egypt as one of the five countries in the world where the illegal organ trade is most rampant and where a great majority of organs come from living donors of the African refugee community.

Nevertheless, it is still reported that Israelis go to poor countries in Central Asia, Eastern Europe and Central America for kidney transplants and pay more than $100,000 to intermediaries who take advantage of people in need (paying them $5,000-$20,000 per kidney). 

In actual fact, it is believed that Israel’s very first heart transplant was removed from a living patient without consent in 1968. Avraham Sadegat died two days after a stroke, and when the Israeli hospital finally turned the man’s body over to his family, they discovered that his upper body was wrapped in bandages. When they removed the bandages, the heart was missing. Weeks after the family signed a document promising not to sue, and the hospital, abided by Israeli law, admitted that his heart had been used.

Stealing Palestinian martyrs’ organs

Israelis allegedly have been stealing Palestinian martyrs’ organs over the years. Even the United Nations has issued some statements recognizing the country’s involvement in illegal trafficking of organs of Palestinian victims. 

Palestinian journalist Khalid Amayreh reported that in January 2002, an Israeli cabinet minister, Nessim Dahan, tacitly admitted that organs taken from the bodies of Palestinian victims might have been used in Jewish patients when he responded to an Arab Knesset member. “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”, Dahan said.

Again in 2007 some news sites reported that two men confessed to persuading mentally ill Arabs from the Galilee and central Israel to have a kidney removed and then did not pay them.

Earlier that year, the Jerusalem Post, reported that 10 members of an Israeli organ smuggling ring targeting Ukrainians had been arrested.

In 2009, a Swedish press report caused a diplomatic crisis after affirming the deliberate killing of Palestinians to steal their organs, especially during the first and second Intifada. Journalist Donald Boström’s article Our sons plundered for their organs published testimonial and circumstantial evidence indicating that Israelis could have harvested internal organs from Palestinian prisoners without consent for many years.

Israelis not willing to be donors

Israel has an extraordinarily small number of willing organ donors compared to other nations and ethnic groups. According to news site Ynet, “in western countries, some 30% of the population have organ donor cards, but in Israel, in contrast, 4% of the population holds such cards.” This could be for “religious reasons”, tells Ynet without adding any further explanation.

To fill this vacuum former Health Minister of Israel in 1992 Ehud Olmert organized a big donor campaign and Palestinians began to disappear even more. Donald Boström reported that “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.”

He was in the area at the time and was approached on “several occasions by UN staff concerned about the developments saying that organ theft definitely occurred, but that they were prevented from doing anything about it.”

Israel has been repeatedly under fire for unethical ways of dealing with transplants and organs, partly due to the great need for organs. This has fermented a “vast and illegal trade of organs which has been running for many years, with authorities aware of it, and doctors in managing positions at the big hospitals participating”, confirmed Boström. What is undeniable is that young Palestinian men have disappeared, have been brought back usually at night under secrecy and stitched back together after having been cut from the abdomen to the chin.

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