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Swedish paper's organ harvesting article draws Israeli outrage

  • Story Highlights
  • Op-ed piece: Israeli soldiers may have harvested organs from dead Palestinians
  • Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman calls article "a shocking piece of blatant racism"
  • Sweden's Foreign Office: We "have free media"; ambassador rejects article
  • Writer says he wants inquiry, has no proof of claims and has received death threats
By Tricia Escobedo
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(CNN) -- Israel has expressed outrage about a Swedish newspaper article that called for an investigation into claims that Israeli soldiers may have harvested organs from dead Palestinians.

"The article was a shocking piece of blatant racism," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told CNN on Wednesday.

"This kind of medieval blood libel cannot be tolerated in any society and the Swedish public and government have to condemn and reject this appalling [incitation] before it actually encourages someone to commit hate crimes."

Israel -- through its ambassador in Stockholm, Sweden -- is asking Sweden's government to condemn the article, Palmor said.

When contacted by CNN, Sweden's Foreign Office had no comment on the report, which was published Tuesday night, only saying that they "have free media" in Sweden.

But Sweden's ambassador to Israel rejected the article, saying Sweden's Embassy "cannot but clearly distance itself" from it.

The article was an op-ed written by freelance journalist Donald Bostrom, who has traveled to the Middle East numerous times. It was printed in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.

Bostrom, who spoke to CNN from Stockholm, said he has received several death threats about the opinion piece.

"What I'm doing in my article is giving a range of examples of very active organ trafficking going on [in Israel]," he said.

He wrote the piece in reaction to a recently unveiled corruption scandal in New Jersey that allegedly involved the private sale of a kidney from a donor in Israel.

Bostrom stressed that he has no proof that Israeli soldiers were stealing organs, and that the purpose of his opinion article was to call for an investigation into numerous claims in the 1990s that such activity was going on. One of those claims is from the family of Bilal Ahmed Ghanem, a 19-year-old Palestinian man who was shot and killed in 1992, allegedly by Israeli forces, in the West Bank village of Imatin.

"I was present that night, I was a witness," Bostrom said.

He said Ghanem's body was taken away and returned several days later by the Israeli military with a cut in his midsection that had been stitched up. Ghanem's family said they believed that his organs had been removed.

After that incident, at least 20 Palestinian families told Bostrom that they suspected the Israeli military had taken the organs of their sons after they had been killed by Israeli forces, and their bodies taken away -- presumably for routine autopsies.

"I was in the West Bank 50 times in the early '90s when I experienced this," Bostrom said. "I think it should be further investigated."

In his op-ed, Bostrom calls on the International Court of Justice -- the principal judicial body of the United Nations -- to investigate the allegations.

There has been no official reaction to the claims from Palestinian leaders.

Bostrom said the families had offered to have the bodies exhumed in order to prove their claims that their relatives' organs had been taken.

He had arranged to investigate the claims -- along with a camera crew and a medical examiner -- for a television news piece. But he said the report was later scrapped because of the closure of the West Bank and Gaza, and Bostrom said no human rights groups were interested in investigating the claims.

The Israeli military routinely carries out autopsies on Palestinians killed by their forces, a point that Bostrom included in his article. Bostrom said he has doubts about the necessity of the procedures if it is clear how the person died.

A United Nations account said that Ghanem's death was investigated by the Israeli military, which concluded that Ghanem, who it said was 20 years old, "may have been killed when a group of reservists passing through the town opened fire in response to rocks being thrown at them."

Bostrom denied that Ghanem was throwing rocks at Israeli forces at the time of his death, saying he was wanted by Israel for a previous incident.

Bostrom was critical of comments from Sweden's ambassador to Israel, Elisabet Borsiin Bonnier, who called the article "as shocking and appalling to us Swedes, as it is to Israeli citizens."

But she noted that Sweden has a free press "just as in Israel," although it comes with "a certain responsibility."

That responsibility, the ambassador said, "falls on the editor-in-chief of any given newspaper."

Bostrom said the newspaper has stood by its decision to publish his article and he has not been contacted by the Swedish government.

But he has received hundreds of messages asking him to recant his position, or worse.

"I have an e-mail here ... saying, 'The Nazis should die and you will be next. We will meet you outside, you will be the next news very soon. Meet you outside," Bostrom said.

When asked if he was afraid, he said, "Yeah, I'm concerned."

CNN's Nicola Goulding, Laura Perez Maestro and Shira Medding contributed to this report.

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