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Arafat Jaradat and the man behind his autopsy

On Monday, Haaretz reported on Turkish pathology expert Dr. Sebnem Korur Fincanci’s findings regarding the death of Palestinian prisoner Arafat Jaradat. Thirty year old Jaradat died in his cell at Israel’s Megiddo Prison on February 23, 2013. He had been arrested by the Shin Bet security service five days earlier, on suspicion of throwing rocks.

Israel’s chief pathologist Dr. Yehuda Hiss of the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute conducted Jaradat’s autopsy, and submitted an expert opinion to the court investigating the case stating the victim’s cause of death as “natural” and concluding that he “almost certainly died of a heart attack.” He acknowledged that several injuries were found on Jaradat’s body, including broken ribs and bruised muscles in the left shoulder and the right side of his back, but said that all these are injuries commonly found in people who have undergone artificial resuscitation.

Relying on the autopsy data and analysis provided by the Israeli forensic authorities, Dr Fincanci concluded that the injuries on Jaradat’s body are indicative of “blunt trauma with a long and thick object” and are not consistent with resuscitation efforts. In her expert opinion she noted beatings by blunt objects during detention is classified as “torture.” The cause of death was concluded as “blunt trauma on the chest” resulting with “lung contusion” and “acute respiratory distress syndrome” (suffocation).

Executive Director of the Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI), Dr. Ishai Menuchin, does not find Hiss’ conclusions convincing. The organisation assisted Jaradat’s family along with Palestinian rights group, Al Haq, to approach the Turkish pathologist after Hiss’ autopsy results clashed with the Palestinian pathologist, Dr. Saber al-Aloul’s, expert opinion. Dr. Alou concluded Jaradat had died as a result of torture. On the ribs broken as a result of resuscitation efforts according to Hiss, Menuchin said, “You need to be a very bad medic to try and make the heart work by pressing on the area where the ribs were broken. No way could anyone miss the wrong broken ribs.” He noted, “One of his lungs was double its size, and the other 1 and half times larger- the reason he died was because he couldn’t breathe.”

According to Haaretz, Mondays publication of the Turkish report (the findings of which were known in April) was a result of the lifting of a gag order by the Court investigating Jaradat’s death, in response to a request by the news agency. Dr Menuchin believes that this order never existed.

Directly after the Turkish report PCATI circulated its findings to the Israeli media, but few reporters picked up the story. According to Dr. Menuchin, journalists did ask Israel’s Ministry of Justice about reporting on the findings and were told, as it was a closed door case, they were prohibited. However the Israeli authorities could not have placed it under a gag order as Hiss’ expert opinion would have also been silenced- it was widely disseminated.

The Central District Prosecution responded to the Haaretz‘s publication on Monday by reiterating Hiss’ conclusion that there was no basis for the claim that Jaradat had been tortured. However Hiss’ place at the centre of many controversies has seen him publically discredited in Israel- and his medical professionalism, including the results of his autopsy, declared as questionable.

In 1999, he was accused of altering the wounds of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and submitting false evidence to the commission investigating his assassination. A group of Israeli academics who noticed the differences between his autopsy conclusions and other expert opinions urged the police to investigate. That same year during an investigation into the death of a twelve year old Palestinian a Jerusalem high court judge accused him of “being carried away by his desire to find the exact cause of death…And ignored important pathological findings which did not correspond with this desire.”

Shortly before he was accused of covering up the scandal of the missing Yemenite children – hundreds, or possibly thousands, of Yemenite Jewish children disappeared from Israeli hospitals between 1948 and 1952. Parents were told by medical professionals the children had died, but many were later found to have been adopted by Jews of European descent.

It was the investigation into charges of organ smuggling, however, which led to his demotion from Director of the Institute- to the State of Israel’s chief pathologist, a position he was also dismissed from a few months prior to conducting Jaradat’s autopsy. In 2005, Hiss admitted to having removed parts from 125 bodies without authorization. Following a plea bargain with the state, the attorney general decided not to press criminal charges.The 125 bodies are likely to have been the tip of the iceberg. During an interview with anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Huges in 2000 he candidly admitted to supplying Israeli hospitals with organs illegally harvested without the consent of the deceased’s family, drawing up organ price lists and gluing eyelids to hide extracted corneas. More recently he has faced criticism after taking “samples” from murdered activist Rachel Corrie’s body for “histological testing” without informing her family, and “burying them.” The Palestinian and Turkish autopsy conclusions indicate Jaradat had been tortured. While the Turkish report has been silenced, Hiss’ conclusion have been spread far and wide. With the advent of the UN Day against Torture, the death of Arafat Jaradat must not be forgotten, and the doubts cast over the role of torture in the circumstances leading up to his death by Hiss’ autopsy discredited as much as the man himself.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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