Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Adar 5762 - February 27, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Under and Above the Law in Israel

by Betzalel Kahn

Some people are subject to the laws of the land in Israel. All of them are equal under the secular law. But others are apparently above the law, and for them it is an entirely different story.

Professor Yehuda Hiss enjoys the backing of the Attorney General and the State Prosecutor. Even the Health Ministry offers decent support considering the allegations against him, the facts in the case and the various reports that have come out about him over the last several years.

Since 5754 (1994) allegations have been lodged against the practices of the Forensics Institute at Abu Kabir of which Professor Hiss is the head. Organs were stolen after autopsies and transferred to various unauthorized facilities all across the country. (See box and full report in the Hebrew Yated Ne'eman of 3 Shevat.)

For years Professor Hiss ran the Institute as he pleased. Much of the testimony he gave -- and he is often called as an expert witness about the pathological findings in a case -- has been inconsistent with the reality presented in court, yet the establishment remains silent and forgiving. He apparently dissected human bodies and did whatever he saw fit with the organs. How is it that a man commits atrocities but is granted sweeping immunity?


Last year Hiss' career took a turn for the worse. A newspaper probe revealed what goes on at Abu Kabir and there was an outcry. Grieving families learned that the bones and organs of their loved ones were lying in jars in the basement of the Forensics Institute, rather than buried with honor in a cemetery. Other families that had been unsure why the body of their loved one had been the subject of an autopsy discovered that in many cases the autopsies were performed as part of medical research or to provide practice for doctors.

The newspaper reports led to a police investigation. Not that the police could have been completely unaware of what took place, as they were the ones who ordered autopsies and they received the results. The investigation has now been underway for over a year, but no conclusions have been released.

A man under accusations like those leveled against Professor Hiss should have been relieved of his duties - - or sent to jail -- very quickly. However, he has continued to serve in his post and continues to enjoy the unqualified backing of top-ranking officials, particularly the State Prosecutor.

Professor Hiss' response to the allegations? He did not deny that much of what was reported is true. But he claimed he did not understand what all the fuss was about. Everything was done inadvertently, and there are occasional human errors . . .

Rulings Based on Perjury

How can Hiss continue to serve in spite of all the cases of misconduct that have come to light? Why is he not standing trial? Why has the police investigation crawled along for over a year?

In the following interview, Ronen Bergman, the Yediot Achronot reporter who exposed the Abu Kabir story over the past year and has continued to write revealing reports on the case, offers an interesting explanation.

RB: What fewer people talk about, because it is less dramatic--but no less important--is Professor Hiss' perjury. He testified regarding autopsies he did not perform. If Hiss is tried for perjury it would mean that the number-one witness for the prosecution in a long list of serious criminal cases in Israel is a perjurer. He testified that he performed autopsies when he was not even present.

In an Israeli court, if the defendant admits to a crime he can be convicted based on his admission. Where he does not confess, Professor Hiss' opinion as an expert witness is often decisive in determining the cause of death. If the individual is tried based on this testimony, this means that the prosecution's case relied on an unreliable source.

There are hundreds of such cases. This would also precipitate a flood of retrials. Any attorney whose client went to jail and discovers that he was sent to jail based on the testimony of a convicted perjurer would invariably request a retrial. This would wreak havoc in the country.

Yated Ne'eman: Is that why he isn't being put on trial?

RB: That is why there are people at the State Prosecutor's Office who are doing everything they can to be sure that he is not put on trial. It is not everyone there. Some people there are doing their job, but there are some officials who are doing everything to keep him from standing trial, as I see it, because of the reason I mentioned. Some people in the State Prosecutor's Office are also afraid that if Hiss feels he is going to fall, he may take a few more people with him.

YN: If Hiss is placed on trial, do you think he will really decide to incriminate some top-ranking officials in the State Prosecutor's Office?

RB: Ask Hiss that.

YN: Why is he backed by the Health Ministry?

RB: In the matter of organs that disappeared, the Health Ministry is afraid that Hiss will say it was done with the backing and approval of top Ministry officials.

YN: Everyone seems to be trying to wash their hands clean . . .

RB: Sure. It's really amazing. The proceedings in this affair are amazing. From the moment the investigation was publicized the man was suspected of criminal violations -- yet nobody suspended him. After my investigation was printed in Yediot Achronot, the Health Minister appointed the Segelson Committee, headed by a district judge. According to the report they released, there are serious grounds for suspecting that he committed criminal violations. He violated the law, and an investigation has to be opened. Nevertheless, he has yet to be suspended.

Only after seven months did the Attorney General file an investigation, and even now, in spite of this, he has not been suspended from his post. It is as if someone were accused of criminal violations and he was then assigned to supervise the scene of the murder. What is this? How do the police know whether evidence has been destroyed? That no one interfered with the investigation? That documents have not been concealed? I can tell you that evidence has been destroyed, the investigation has been interfered with and documents have been concealed. I know this for a fact.

YN: Do all of the suspicions focus on Professor Hiss alone?

RB: He is not the only suspect. There are suspicions regarding activities in all departments of the Institute, a long list of activities by other people as well.

YN: Are you familiar with similar incidents in which the State Prosecutor's Office has opted to make special accommodations in favor of, or against, a certain individual for no apparent reason?

RB: Take, for example, Brigadier General Yitzhak Yaakov. He granted me an interview and was then arrested under suspicion that he divulged state secrets. Most of the top-ranking officials in the defense establishment have done this for years. In the case of Brigadier General Yaakov, the entire establishment got together to bring him down. Defense Ministry personnel worked against him and the State Prosecutor's Office capitulated to them.

Mizrachi Comes Out Clean as a Whistle

Reports published a month ago alleging that the police's International Investigations Unit tapped phone calls of Avigdor Liberman, now Infrastructures Minister, including some to former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during the last Knesset election campaign. Police had been conducting a judicially sanctioned covert investigation of Liberman, who was then running in his first Knesset elections, based on suspicions that he had criminal ties in Russia.

The court authorized police to tap only calls associated with the case, and only over a period of five months in 1998-99. During this period Liberman made numerous calls to the Prime Minister, who was running for a second term, to Ariel Sharon and to other leading politicians that were political in nature and entirely unrelated to any criminal elements in Russia. These conversations were transcribed in violation of the court's instructions. The police kept the transcripts on file in their computers, and one of the International Unit's investigators, Stanislav Yazhmasky, who was supposed to perform the backup for the computer files, did not approve of the police's conduct in the investigation. A few weeks ago he took the files with him and left the country indefinitely.

At that time, the current head of the Investigations Division, Major General Moshe Mizrachi (then Brigadier General), was in charge of the investigation and should be responsible for what took place under his command. This incident joins a long list of other incidents Mizrachi was involved in. Yet somehow he has come out of all of them without a stain.

He has never faced trial and the State Prosecutor's Office-- along with the top police echelon--has always remained at his side.

Three weeks ago, following strong attacks against General Mizrachi, the Attorney General and the State Prosecutor's Office released a statement of sweeping support for him, claiming that all of the police transcripts made on Mizrachi's orders had been approved by the court. The reporter and his sources deny this.

The Two States of Israel

Avigdor Liberman was stunned by the reports. "I am totally shocked by what has been uncovered. . . . during the election campaign Israel Police listened in on the Prime Minister, and in matters tied to the election process and his [campaign] moves. Such acts are very serious and must be looked into," Liberman told Yated Ne'eman.

One year ago, it was claimed that in a private conversation with close associates Liberman made harsh remarks about General Mizrachi. "This police officer is worse than the leading antisemites," Liberman was quoted as saying.

Following the allegations--surprise, surprise--a police investigation was opened against him on suspicion of slighting a public servant, even though it was a statement made in private to an associate. The State Prosecutor decided to issue an indictment against Liberman, but the Knesset was unwilling to remove his immunity.

"Other people have made much worse statements about public figures -- in public -- and nothing was done to them. Azmi Bishara called for the murder of IDF soldiers, and nothing has happened to him. Everyone can draw his own conclusions," says Liberman.

Standard Practice?

Numerous allegations of illegal activities by Mizrachi were also made in the Ofer Nimrodi scandal. The Nimrodi Family, whose son Ofer, former chairman of the Board of Directors of Ma'ariv, was suspected of serious crimes, tried to block Mizrachi's appointment as head of the Investigations Division. The family claimed that Mizrachi presented false data regarding Ofer Nimrodi, and therefore should be disqualified.

Innumerable reports about Mizrachi and even a High Court petition had no effect, and top police brass decided to appoint him to the post despite his questionable past conduct as one of Israel Police's leading investigators, and today as the country's number-one police investigator.

It should be noted that no court has ever determined that Mizrachi committed the criminal violations attributed to him by various politicians and media figures, but it is odd that someone's career can advance so strongly even when there are such large public clouds over his activities.

Sparing Arab Homes and Razing the Settlements

Israel's Planning and Construction Law was legislated many years ago. This law forbids construction without a building permit from the local authority. If someone subverts the law the local authority is authorized to demolish the structure. In the Arab sector, in East Jerusalem and throughout Israel, a large percentage of homes are built without permits.

In recent years the City of Jerusalem has done dozens of these demolitions, always with massive police presence to forestall public disturbances.

Mossi Raz (Meretz) has been raising a storm against house demolitions like those carried out recently in Issawiya, in East Jerusalem. This very same Mossi Raz, from his days as secretary of Peace Now to the present, has devoted considerable efforts to track construction in the settlements. He photographs every structure not built according to the master plan or in excess of the needs of the settlement. He spends large sums of money, including payment for satellite photographs, in order to reveal the extensive construction in the settlements. From his perspective, illegal homes built by Palestinians cannot be demolished, yet legal construction in the settlements should be razed without delay, for he believes it harms the peace process.

Another case was that of former president Ezer Weizman. He violated the tax laws. Yet the Attorney General and the State Prosecutor decided that he could resign his post as president rather than face a trial. It is up to their discretion whether to indict, and in many cases involving top-ranking officials, they exercise this discretion freely.

A Law That Need Not be Enforced

In the State of Israel former Attorney General Michael Ben- Ya'ir determined that "human bones are not antiquities," and therefore they cannot be held without burial. Over the last few years, it was found that the basements of several universities and medical schools house hundreds of human bones and skeletons, held in cardboard boxes in violation of Paragraph 172 of the Penal Code, which carries a prison sentence of three years for disrespectful treatment of bones.

Every time human remains were found, despite photographs and detailed testimony, the police decided to close the case quietly, without a strenuous investigation, without an indictment and without an attempt to put the lawbreakers on trial. Over the years the Attorney General has received innumerable letters from various figures demanding that he instruct the police to open a criminal investigation against those in charge of these basements, but no action was taken.

Although the Attorney General has determined this to be a criminal act, the police have shown little interest in the matter. In the isolated cases in which an investigation was opened, there were no results.

In effect, this is a law that need not be implemented or enforced in the State of Israel. And as Avigdor Liberman says, there are laws and then there are laws, there is one Israel and then there is a second Israel, there are organizations and individuals who have the right to do whatever they please and then there are others who are put on trial for even the slightest violation of the law.

A Catalogue of Accusations against Professor Hiss

by G. Rauchberger

Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander and Health Minister Nissim Dahan say that since Hiss is a high- ranking civil servant and because of the sensitive nature of the issue in the public eye, they cannot order a suspension until the police report officially that they have begun an investigation. Even though police say they have begun an investigation, no official word has been received.

Ma'ariv published an overview of Hiss' involvement in some past incidents at the Abu Kabir pathological institute. The list is far from complete.

December 1994: A 33-year-old woman is found dead at the home of her elderly parents. Hiss testifies in court that the deceased suffocated, presenting x-ray photographs that later proved to be the lungs of a five- year-old girl. The court dismisses his testimony and determined a different cause of death. Hiss later claims a clerk inadvertently switched the photographs.

December 1997: A woman claims her son was finally found, alleging that he was kidnapped as part of the Children of Yemen scandal. Hiss denies the woman's allegations and publicizes the conclusions of the medical examination he conducted, despite explicit requests to maintain medical discretion. Hiss claims he went to the media due to public interest in the scandal and admits he acted illegally.

April 1998: A young British tourist, arrested for suspected terrorist activity, is found dead in police custody. When his body is sent abroad the family claims the heart and tongue are missing, and accuses Hiss of having stolen them. Hiss claims the deceased may have suffered from heart disease and therefore his heart was taken for a separate examination among hundreds of other hearts taken without familial consent.

April 1999: Local newspaper Kol Ha'emek Vehagalil reveals that the IDF, Israel Police and the Mossad regularly used corpses from the Institute to train army doctors to perform emergency surgical procedures. Dr. Chaim Bozgalo claims that the Institute removed organs from his son, a soldier killed two years earlier. Hiss is interrogated under warning. The head of Personnel of the IDF instructs the Institute to stop the training exercises. Hiss claims that it was accepted procedure at the Institute and that the only failure was in not informing the families of soldiers who had been killed that doctors were using the bodies of their loved ones for training exercises, adding that had it been the body of one of his own family members, he would have been proud.

November 1999: Local newspaper Ha'ir reports that doctors who served reserve duty at the Institute removed layers of skin, corneas and heart valves from corpses without permission from families. Hiss says this was done with familial consent and today he continues to do so without reserve-duty doctors, saying the only problem was that the practice was publicized.

December 2000: Channel One television reveals that bones and organs are removed from corpses and replaced with rods and cotton wool. Family members are not informed. At the same time Yediot Achronot reports that the bones of the deceased are sawed out and replaced with rods and garden hoses. According to this report, the organs stolen from the corpses are transferred to university research institutes in exchange for payment and Professor Hiss is compensated by having his name appear as one of the authors of research studies. The director-general of the Health Ministry again appoints an investigative committee and starting January 1st, 2001 this type of research is stopped. Hiss claims that rods and hoses are inserted after the autopsy in order restore the body's appearance, "thereby preserving the dignity of the deceased," and he did not anticipate having to relate this to the families.

April 2001: The Segelson Committee, appointed to investigate the Institute, releases its findings, confirming that Professor Hiss did not adhere to Health Ministry directives. It concludes that the Institute performed illegal research studies and supplied organs to research institutes in exchange for payment. Organs were cut out for instruction and research purposes without the knowledge of the deceased's family. The committee determines that Hiss signed autopsy reports even though he was not present.

In conclusion the report states, "There are no established work rules at the Institute and the administration has failed in every aspect of management." Hiss hired legal counsel, Attorney Chaim Zilichov, who claimed Hiss acted according to norms accepted at pathological institutes around the world and that all of Hiss' deeds were done in the name of saving human lives.

Following the Segelson Committee findings, police opened a criminal investigation against Prof. Hiss. This investigation has been underway for ten months, yet Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander says he has not received any documents from the police confirming the investigation.

January 2002: Yediot Achronot publishes new findings that hundreds of organs from soldiers and citizens remain at the Institute rather than being buried, and families are not notified of the fact. This time Hiss claims that the organs and body parts were taken for legal documentation. Following a public outcry, the Health Ministry changes the directives to prohibit the Institute from taking any organ or body part from deceased persons without prior written consent from the family. In addition the practice of keeping organs for two years was shortened to one year; only then are the organs delivered for burial according to halocho under the supervision of the Institute's Rav Yaakov Rozha.

The Army Chief Rabbinate claims the Institute misled it by not reporting the presence of soldiers' body parts.

Hiss stays on the job, refusing to go on leave or to suspend himself.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.