In the interview, which was conducted
in 2000 when Hiss was head of Tel Aviv's Abu Kabir forensic
institute, he said: "We started to harvest corneas ... Whatever was
done was highly informal. No permission was asked from the family."
Nancy Scheper-Hughes, who conducted
the interview, told Al Jazeera on Monday that Hiss had said the
"body parts were used by hospitals for transplant purposes - cornea
transplants. They were sent to public hospitals [for use on
"And the skin went to a special skin
bank, founded by the military, for their uses", such as for burns
The practice is said to have ended in
The interview was also reported on
Israel's Channel 2 television, which quoted an Israeli military
statement that said: "This activity ended a decade ago and does not
happen any longer."
Israel's health ministry said in the
Channel 2 report that at the time the guidelines for transplants
"were not clear" and that for the last 10 years "Abu Kabir has been
working according to ethics and Jewish law".
Scheper-Hughes, who is a professor of
anthropology at the University of California-Berkeley, said that she
made the interview public because of the controversy last summer
over allegations of organ harvesting made by a Swedish newspaper.
In August the Aftonbladet
newspaper ran an article alleging that the Israeli army had stolen
body organs from Palestinian men after killing them.
Israel denied the claims, calling them
anti-Semitic, and the incident raised tensions when Sweden refused
to apologise for the article, saying that press freedom prevented it
Donald Bostrom, the journalist who
broke the story in Aftonbladet, told Al Jazeera: "UN staff
came to me and said that you have to look into this very serious
issue. Palestinian young people were disappearing in the areas and
five days later they appear back in the villages with an autopsy
done on them against the will of the families.
"We need to know who are the victims.
Mothers need to know what happened to their sons."
Bostrom said that there is no proof
that people were killed for their organs but that an investigation
is needed to find out whether there was a policy in place or if the
bodies used were random.
Bostrom added that Hiss is the "main
key" to solving such unanswered questions, but that there would also
be other people involved who could help uncover the truth.
Scheper-Hughes said that some of the
dead Palestinians from whom organs were harvested were killed during
"Some of the bodies were definitely
Palestinians who were killed in conflicts," she told Al Jazeera.
"Their organs were taken without
consent of families and were used to serve the needs of the country
in terms of hospitals as well as the army's needs."
She said that Hiss told her "that the
people who did the harvesting were sent by the military. They were
often medical students".
"He did it informally and without
permission, and it was technically illegal," she said.
The military establishment gave their
"sanction and approval" to the procedures, according to Scheper-Hughes.
During his interview with Scheper-Hughes,
Hiss said that the eyelids of bodies were glued shut to prevent the
removal of corneas being found out.
Hiss was dismissed as head of Abu
Kabir in 2004 over irregularities in the use of organs, but charges
against him were eventually dropped. He still holds the position of
chief pathologist at the institute.