Swedish Reporter in Israel: Not All Criticism of You Is anti-Semitism

Donald Bostrom arrives in Israel for media conference prepared to explain organ harvesting article.

Donald Bostrom didn't know he needed this. With Moses, a gigantic bodyguard in a suit and tie watching over his Tel Aviv hotel room with an earpiece and a concealed gun; with a handful of demonstrators who greeted him in the wee hours of the morning at Ben-Gurion International Airport; and with the program for his visit to Israel, in which it is explained that during his trip to attend the Dimona Media Conference, he will be accompanied by two bodyguards, that the details of his visit will be "classified" and that he will wait in a "security room" before and after an interview to be conducted with him today by Yair Lapid.

Donald Bostrom didn't know he needed this. He arrived here Sunday, in an attempt to explain to Israelis what he meant in his scandalous article about alleged organ harvesting by the Israel Defense Forces - a brave step on his part and a no-less-brave step on the part of the organizers of the Dimona conference - who were already attacked by Minister Silvan Shalom, who decided to boycott the gathering and withdraw the money his ministry had pledged to the conference.

"Is it possible here to retroactively cancel an allocation for a conference?" asks the musician and exiled artist Dror Feiler, who is accompanying Bostrom on his visit, and who also had a scandal in his past, the scandal of the blood in the "Snow White and The Madness of Truth" installation he exhibited in Stockholm in January 2004.

Bostrom seems a little embarrassed about the reception he is getting. We ate breakfast at his hotel, which borders on Am Yisrael Hai ("the people of Israel live") Street, and then we went up to his room which overlooks the sea. There he showed me the pictures he had taken of the body of the stone thrower, Bilal Ghanan, from the village of Imatin in the northern West Bank who had been shot by IDF soldiers on May 13, 1992.

The mortally wounded Ghanan was evacuated to the hospital by an Israel army helicopter and his dead body was returned to his family five days later, sewn up along its length, while Bostrom was in the village. Bostrom says the family is entitled to know what happened to their son, why his body was autopsied without his family's permission and whether the rumors are correct that his internal organs were removed at the Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine.

This legitimate demand was presented by Bostrom in a very problematic article in which he hints that Palestinians were abducted and their bodies were returned without organs. The context in which he published the article, apropos of the trade in body organs by some Jews in New Jersey, also added a problematic and loaded dimension to the article. Bostrom says he published Ghanan's story in a book he wrote several years ago and also tried to have it published in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter which rejected it. He finally published it in the tabloid Aftonbladet in its daily cultural supplement, when the story about the New Jersey Jews broke.

He apparently understands that the connection between New Jersey and the suspicion, which Bostrom does not prove, of garnering organs from the Palestinians, can provide inflammatory material for anti-Semitic groups.

Bostrom says he did not like the headline given to the article: "Our sons are plundered of their organs", but he understands that the responsibility for the article lies with him. He says that dozens of Palestinians believe their family members' organs were stolen.

You have already had scandals at your forensic institute with other bodies, he says, and there is illegal trade in organs, so there is a need to investigate.

This experienced photographer and journalist who has visited Israel more than 40 times, who has published many of his photographs in the journal of the Swedish Palestinian solidarity movement, who once before also aroused a similar uproar after an article about mass killings in Ethiopia, understands that he made some mistakes in his article.

It is doubtful whether he agrees that the call for an investigation should have been directed first and foremost at him before he published the suspicions. Their publication without any factual support is not professional journalism. That is why it is good he was invited to come here and that is why it is good that he came.

Are you sorry about anything?

"I'm sorry there are so many lies about me. Like for example that they say I wrote that the soldiers hunted for youths so as to take their organs. It's obvious that's a lie. Even the Palestinians don't make a claim like that. And the other side attributes anti-Semitism to me. I'm sorry about that. I'm sorry I've become a political tool. I'm sorry the article caused damage to the struggle for human rights here. And above all, I'm sorry that no one took the article seriously and that they did not examine the suspicions. In Sweden too they didn't take it seriously."

Would you write it differently now?

"If I were writing it again, I would stress that the IDF liquidates so many youths without a trial and that they take bodies and conduct autopsies on them without the permission of the families. My article created confusion and was incorrectly interpreted. I admire your democratic courage to invite me to explain myself here."

Do you think the IDF killed people to get body organs?

"I don't think soldiers behaved like that. I don't think they killed in order to gather organs. The truth is that they kill them without a trial and their bodies are taken to Abu Kabir. We don't know whether they take out the organs. That has still to be further investigated. No one opened up the bodies after they were returned and only one man knows the truth, Prof. Yehuda Hiss, the director of the forensic institute.

So why did you publish baseless accusations?

"I think the article led to good things and bad things, but now it is on the table. Israeli journalists must investigate. You have done good things in the past. Haaretz gives better coverage of the conflict than the Swedish papers, so go on investigating this. There are a lot of question marks."

Are you anti-Semitic?

"Of course not. I am sad. I am angry that my article has been used for political purposes. Not every criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism. Like all the Swedes, I support Israel's right to exist, but I want a more just Israel. We have a tradition in Sweden of standing by international law and when you violate it, it arouses anger. Take this article seriously. The Palestinian families are entitled to know what happened to their loved ones. I am talking about compassion and human rights."