Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman should have sent a big bouquet to Donald Bostrom, the Swedish photographer and journalist who wrote the article claiming that the Israel Defense Forces harvested organs from dead Palestinians. And the Foreign Ministry should write a letter of thanks to the editors of his paper, Aftonbladet. It has been a long time since such a propaganda asset has fallen into the hands of the friends of the occupation. It has been a long time since such damage has been caused to people seriously attempting to document its horrors.
The bizarre Swedish report led to a no-less-bizarre Israeli response. Bad and irresponsible journalism crossed paths with bad and irresponsible diplomacy. Instead of simply denying the report, Lieberman, true to form, acted like a bully. In his fiery response - from his disrespectful mention of the Holocaust to identifying every criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism, to his ludicrous demand that the Swedish Foreign Ministry condemn the article - Lieberman caused great diplomatic damage to Israel. He even scandalously attacked Norway for marking the 150th birthday of its greatest author. However, the article's damage to the fight against the occupation cannot be ignored.
Serious journalism's task is to document, investigate and prove - not to call on others to investigate, as the Swedish tabloid did. One may, for example, accuse the Swedish reporter of a crime, writing that he rapes little boys or girls, all based on suspicions and rumors, and call on the Swedish police to investigate. That's what the reporter did with his claims of trafficking in Palestinian organs.
There were cases in which the organs of Palestinians who had been killed were harvested without permission, something the Institute of Forensic Medicine has done to others in Israel, for research purposes. But it's a long way from that to suspicion of trafficking in organs based only on the fact that in 1992 a dead Palestinian was found whose organs had been removed and his body sewn back up. And 17 years later a few Jews were arrested on suspicion of trafficking in human organs. That's not professional journalism, that's cheap and harmful journalism.
The Israeli occupation is ugly enough without the contribution of Nordic fairy tales. Its wrongs are abominable even without exaggerations and inventions. We, a small group of Israeli journalists trying to document the occupation, always knew that we must not publish an unfounded report. One mistake and the whole journalistic enterprise would fall into the hands of official propaganda, which automatically denies all suspicions and is just waiting for a mistake. Look what the IDF Spokesman's Office did to the organization Breaking the Silence, just because it was set up as a nonprofit limited company and not a nonprofit organization; as if that were relevant to the quality of the testimony it presents.
Over the years, the IDF has killed thousands of innocent civilians, among them women and children. The Shin Bet security service has tortured hundreds of people under interrogation, sometimes to death. Israel prevents food and medicine from reaching Gaza. Sick people are extorted by the Shin Bet to become collaborators in return for medical treatment. Thousands of homes in the territories have been demolished for nothing. Dozens of people have been killed by special units when they could have been arrested instead. Thousands of detainees have sat in jail for months or years without trial. Is that not enough to draw a reliable portrait of the occupation? Is that not shocking enough?
Like the perverse comparison to the Nazis, any exaggeration in describing the occupation's cruelty will ultimately damage the struggle against it. It's easy to prove that Israel did not traffic in Palestinian organs, as it's easy to prove that Israeli soldiers do not act like Nazis or that Israel is not commiting genocide. That doesn't mean the occupation is not evil, criminal and brutal. The false stories serve Israeli propaganda: Look, we've issued a denial, we've proved that the occupation is not as cruel as they say, and we've cast doubt on all other, serious and well-founded testimony.
Those who know Bostrom say he's a wonderful photographer and a less-successful journalist. He has proved this by his article. Bostrom is involved in the Swedish solidarity movement with the Palestinians, but that does not necessarily mean he has hidden anti-Semitic motives. He may even have had good intentions, but good intentions are not enough.
Now all serious researchers, journalists and human rights groups have to prove the accuracy of their findings. The truth is that the occupation is very evil, even if not in the way Aftonbladet presented it.
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