Modern-day 'body snatchers': Is Israel stealing Palestinian corpses for their organs?

Gaza bodies
7 min read
01 December, 2023

It has now been more than 50 days of Israel's near non-stop violence against Gaza. 

The war crimes against the blockaded and besieged Gaza Strip by the Israeli occupation through ground and air offensives continue to mount, as well as atrocities in the West Bank.

With the initial, temporary truce — one that Israel has already violated multiple times — the people of Gaza, Palestine, and the free world, have a moment to not only grieve, retrieve, and bury their dead, but also assess the extent of the sheer destruction and truly comprehend the different aspects of Israel’s wanton disregard for life, even into death. 

Israel has recently made it lawful to hold dead Palestinians’ bodies and steal their organs. One such decision is the 2019 Israeli Supreme Court ruling that permits the military ruler to temporarily bury the bodies in what is known as the 'Numbers Cemetery'"

With the attack on the Gazan people that has stolen more than 15,000 civilian lives, over 6,000 of whom were only children, in all manners of horror, the biopower of the Israeli state becomes painfully clear.

The demonization and devaluation of Palestinian existence reveal the Israeli power over who lives and who dies. More disturbing still are their new experiments of necro-policy over the corpses of the murdered Gazans — and throughout this assault on Gaza, information regarding a long-standing tradition of Israeli control and abuse of Palestinians, both living and dead, have been exposed.

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The Al-Shifa hospital is now world-famous due to provenly baseless Israeli insistence that a Hamas command centre is located beneath it; this propaganda supposedly ‘justified’ indiscriminately targeting the hospital complex through different modes of violence. 

Israel has not only abused the innocent lives of the patients, refugees, disabled, and other highly vulnerable individuals, but it seems, according to several sources, including senior staff at Al-Shifa hospital, that corpses of martyred Gazans were removed from both the hospital as well as a nearby mass grave, an instance of modern-day ‘body snatching.’ 

Under seige and occupation, Palestinians are given no peace in life and death [Getty Images]
Even in death, Palestinians are granted no peace from Israeli intrusion [Getty Images]

On November 18 in a statement to Al-Jazeera Arabi, the general manager for the Palestinian Ministry of Health, Munir al-Barsh, said that Israeli forces removed more than 100 bodies from Al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza.

Barsh told Al-Jazeera that Israeli forces removed 15 bodies from a mass grave, with a total of around 130 bodies taken from the hospital. He did not say where the bodies were taken to or provide further details.

Little attention was paid at the time, due to the Israeli violence that completely engulfed the Gaza Strip thus denying secure entry of local and international parties and ergo opportunities to investigate.

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During this ‘pause’ in violence, reports are now surfacing unconditionally confirming the fact that Israeli forces did indeed manually remove bodies from the hospital and the surrounding complex.

Furthermore, the director of the hospital, who refused to leave his patients and the hospital, has since been arrested by the occupation forces and will be detained for 45 days.

These bodies were missing for some time and then some returned. It is assumed that some of the unidentified bodies were then buried in a mass grave near the Rafah crossing.

In a highly publicised video, where the viewer can see tens and tens of blue body bags placed into a large trench in the ground, some of the unidentified bodies may have been some of the stolen corpses. 

"Organs, including corneas, as well as vital organs, including kidneys, hearts, and livers were removed from the bodies"

Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor has called for an international investigation based on the findings of their new report. This call is built on multiple doctor’s testimonies, as well as other witness statements, and an investigation into some of the returned corpses. What was found is that organs, including corneas, as well as vital organs, including kidneys, hearts, and livers were removed from the bodies. 

While this depraved act may come as a surprise to many, to the Palestinian population, this is sadly in no way the first instance in which a corpse has been withheld and violated without the knowledge, let alone consent, of next of kin. 

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The obligation to take all possible measures to prevent the dead from being despoiled (or pillaged) was first codified in the 1907 Hague Convention. It is now also codified in the Geneva Conventions. It is also contained in Additional Protocol I, albeit in more general terms of “respecting” the dead, which includes the notion of preventing the remains from being despoiled (International Humanitarian Law Database)

The Euro-Med report cites that Israel has recently made it lawful to hold dead Palestinians’ bodies and steal their organs. One such decision is the 2019 Israeli Supreme Court ruling that permits the military ruler to temporarily bury the bodies in what is known as the “Numbers Cemetery”.

By the end of 2021, the Israeli Knesset (or Parliament) had passed laws allowing the army and police to hold onto the bodies of dead Palestinians.

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Further to this, Mustafa Barghouti, a doctor, activist, and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, revealed on an Al-Jazeera programme that, “Not only do Israelis imprison Palestinians who are alive, they are also imprisoning dead people, martyrs; 398 Palestinians who have already died in Israeli jails, or those who have been shot by the Israeli army, are kept in jail. Those who die in Israeli prisons because of sickness, or because of torture, have to stay in prison, in refrigerators to complete their sentence.”

"Organs from dead Palestinians were used in Israeli medical schools and medical research"

Dr Barghouti added that “142 of the Palestinians who were recently killed, mostly young people and children, are held in refrigerators and the Israeli authorities refuse to release them to their families as a form of psychological torture and collective punishment.” It is explained by other participants in the interview that this is indeed a long-standing practice that goes back, at the very least to the 1960s.

He also adds a critical point, one repeated by Israelis themselves, that this would never happen to an Israeli body. A central component to the understanding of necropolitics is the closer you are to the dominant power, the more value your life, and death, have.  

The Euro-med report also highlights Israeli doctor and author Meira Weiss, who states in the book, Over Their Dead Bodies, that organs from dead Palestinians were used in Israeli medical schools and medical research, adding that transplants to Jewish-Israeli patients were also conducted. 

“Even more concerning are admissions made by Yehuda Hess, the former director of Israel’s Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine, about the theft of human tissues, organs, and skin from dead Palestinians over some time without their relatives’ knowledge or approval,” the report adds. In a now-blocked televised interview, the Kabir Institute, and members of the institute all made this admission. It was subject to harsh criticism and according to a Guardian article from 2009, a furious row prompted by a Swedish newspaper reporting that Israel was killing Palestinians to use their organs – a charge that Israel denied and called "antisemitic.”

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Some excerpts from an Israel Channel 2 interview with members of the skin bank are circling social media channels including Instagram and TikTok. 

This abuse of the dead, and the collective punishment of the living through coercive control of dead Palestinians, the theft that continues to take place, even after life has been stolen, is not a moral quandary, it is abjectly inhumane.

The hubris of Israel in conducting the universally rejected violations of living and dead bodies cannot continue to be met with impunity and apathy.

This is particularly so due to how Israel creates a hierarchy of life and death based on ethnic value; a concept that was similarly used to persecute the European-Jewish community. 

These sadistic policies, based in the context of an ethnonational state cannot, and will never, ensure safety, for Palestinians (and Israel alike).

It is truly frightening, that despite all the atrocities against Palestinians the world has borne witness to these past months, these past years, that not a single government of the ‘free world’ has outright condemned these war crimes.

If Israel does not have the morality to treat the dead with basic humanity — what horror, it is to imagine their capacity for cruelty towards the ‘wretched’ living? 

Nadine Sayegh is a multidisciplinary writer and researcher covering the Arab world. For over ten years, she has covered a variety of both social and geopolitical issues including gender in the region, human security, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Follow Nadine on Instagram/X: @ntnncy