Eclectic Grounds

conflicts and conversation

Posts Tagged ‘palestine

Organ trafficking, the global economy and militant anthropology

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Shocking revelations emerged yesterday from an interview with the head of the Israeli forensic institute. In the interview, he admits systematic organ harvest by Israel from dead palestinian bodies (more information here).

The statements were made during an interview with Nancy Sheper-Hughes – a fantastic anthropologist whose work has inspired many (me included) for the field and the ethics of anthropology. She deserves a mention in this debate for her investigations in the global network of organ trafficking.

In years of research, Sheper-Hughes shed light on the global relations of organ donors, smugglers, doctors and recipients. A focus of her work is on global power relations that enable this illegal industry. She writes about the marginalized in the global economy from places like South Asia, Latin America or Eastern Europe, who are willing to sell parts of their body to support their families or simply to be able to afford status symbols and satisfy consumption needs. Many others have their organs removed without consent – the revelations about organ theft in Palestine is a remarkable case there. Sheper-Hughes says:

“I was confused, because there were so many forms of real violence; […] but what they [people in the community in Brazil] wanted to talk about was their incredible fear that their bodies were at risk, or those of their children, of being kidnapped by an organ mafia.”

Sheper-Hughes traced the path of trafficked organs through places like India, China, South Africa or – prominently – Israel:

“I found out from the transplant surgeons that these weren’t just allegations but that they were true, and that organ trafficking amongst living people was spreading. […] I began by following the rumours, before I started following the bodies. My primary aim is to disabuse the world of the notion that this is just a rumour.”

At the end of the global “supply chain” or organs are mostly recipients from industrialized parts of the world, usually Europe or the US.

“I worry about the politics, the bio-politics in a global sense, of the people who are resisting the getting of an organ through a waiting list or through friends or family, and would rather get a poor and anonymous person. It’s easier. You don’t have to deal with them after the fact.”

Sheper-Hughes calls her method ‘militant anthropology’, which means that it is prepared to take on a political or moral engagement with its subjects rather than merely engage in academic analysis. In the course of her work, she founded a small NGO called Organs Watch who acts as a pressure group to spread the word, build alliances, and push for legislate response to the injustice.

“Much as I feel for the recipients, for their pain and their suffering, they are represented and visible. They have surplus empathy, they’re in the newspapers and everybody’s heart goes out to them. Nobody’s heart goes out to the sellers, because they’re the riff-raff of society, and not people you naturally want to embrace, but they’re human beings – they need to be represented. Their body is precious to them. We talk about the gift of life. I talk about the gift of the body – instead of ‘I think therefore I am’, you can say ‘I’m embodied therefore I am’. To have to plunge in to yourself and sell that through which you have a personhood, and to think of your only resource as being your organs is so tragic.”

Quotations taken from an interview with Three Monkeys Online.


Dehumanization & Conflict: How soldiers and societies “make” violence just

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These shirts apparently are popular amongst Israeli soldiers these days:


According to Sociological Images, “the shirt on the left shows a pregnant woman, clearly meant to be Arab/Palestinian, in crosshairs and says ‘1 Shot 2 Kills.’ The one on the right has a kid carrying a gun in crosshairs and says “The smaller, the harder,” or maybe ‘the smaller it is, the harder it is.'”

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has led the two groups become strangers to each other. Through policy, but also though social processes over the decades of violence, both groups have become indifferent to each other’s suffering. Haaretz (via Jörg Lau) recently ran an article about Israeli soldiers’ behaviour during the latest Gaza offensive. One soldier is quoted saying “The lives of Palestinians, let’s say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they are concerned they can justify [human rights abuses] that way”

Lucy Nusseibeh at analyses the emotive effects of the conflict:

The result of the massive and indiscriminate use of force is to diminish Israelis’ as well as Palestinians’ human security. Both are locked in a (very asymmetrical) system that is dominated by fear, victimhood, violence, and (for most) a striking lack of empathy.

What’s happening in Israel and Palestine just as in most conflicts is that the devaluation of the other creates the ideological justification which makes it possible for a group to commit collective crimes. Human rights violations are facilitated by group distinctions made absolute and by the consequent application of separate moral standards for in‐group and out‐group.

There are a few sociological and psychological insights that can explain this pattern: 

Personal identity and group identity: When personal identity fades behind an absolutist definition in terms of one’s group, and when this group is excluded from the human family, it is no longer morally unacceptable to harm and kill these individuals.

Victims are never innocent: We can see the role of dehumanisation of victims as central feature of atrocities on all levels. On the psychological perspective, a central theme in the dehumanisation of victims by torturers is the concept of just‐world thinking. It refers to the blaming of victims as ultimately responsible for their sufferings in an act of self‐persuasion. The innocence of the individual cannot be established as the individual cannot not be cleared of the “misdeeds, evil intention, or faults” of her communal groups. A devaluation of the other and diminishing concerns with their suffering is the consequence.

Moral double standards: The dehumanisation and application of negative stereotypes against a communal group may lead to a justification of atrocities by reshaping moral standards and turning evil deeds in good ones: the perpetrator is doing a good thing by eliminating evil people. Out-groups who become victims of atrocities often have a history of victimisation and marginalisation, thereby socially guiding the thought processes of perpetrators. 

The role of the state: In modern society, the state is the most important instance of authority, which individuals derive their rights from. To be excluded from the state means being regarded a non‐person, vulnerable to arbitrary treatment.

Sociology of the army: Ideological elements are inherent to any modern army. Armies create systems of ideas and symbols that revolve around discipline and giving up on an individual moral system. Symbols, in‐group fetishism and the channelling of aggressiveness toward the enemy become central elements in this ideology. In this way, separate morals and manners different from the population are established. 

For excellent research on how dehumanization is used by soldiers and societies in conflict to rationalize violence, look up  H.C. Kelman’s book “The social context of torture”, Mika Haritos‐Fatouras’ work, Anette Smeulers’ interviews with Greek torturers, entitled “What transforms ordinary people into gross human rights violators?”, and Alex Alvarez’ “Destructive Beliefs: Genocide and the Role of Ideology”.

All but Alvarez can be downloaded as PDF for free.


On the idea that Hamas can be annihilated

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A great commentary by Israeli novelist A. B. Yehoshua at Project Syndicate:

They [the Palestinians] are our neighbors, and they will be our neighbors in the future. So, when we decide to fight a war against them, we have to consider very carefully the character of that war, its duration, and the effect of its violence. We Israelis have no power to extirpate the Hamas government from Gaza, much as we did not have the power to eliminate the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the voice of the Palestinian people’s national aspirations, or Hezbollah from Lebanon in the war of 2006.

Ariel Sharon and Menachem Begin went all the way to Beirut in the early 1980’s, paying a terrible and bloody price, to try to eliminate the PLO – a result that could never be obtained. And what happened? In the end, Sharon and then Binyamin Netanyahu both ended up sitting down at the negotiating table with Yassir Arafat and his representatives to try to reach an agreement. Now Arafat’s former deputy, Abu Mazen, is a frequent and welcome guest in our country.

We Israelis must begin to realize this simple fact: the Arabs are not metaphysical creatures, but human beings, and human beings have it within themselves to change. After all, we Israelis change our positions, mitigate our opinions, and open ourselves up to new ideas. So we would do well to get out of our heads as quickly as possible the illusion that we can somehow annihilate Hamas or eradicate them from the Gaza strip.

Instead, we have to work, with caution and good sense, to reach a reasonable and detailed agreement for a lasting ceasefire that has within it the perspective that Hamas can change. Such a change is possible and can be acted upon. Such fundamental changes of heart and mind have happened many times in the course of history.

Read the full text here.

Written by henrik

January 22, 2009 at 1:14 pm

How’s your news, Al Jazeera?

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Al Jazeera English

Jörg Lau (in German) made an interesting recommendation to Europeans interested in what’s going on in the Middle East. He’s been watching Al Jazeera during the ongoing Israeli invasion in Gaza and brings up interesting points why the channel might be a positive addition to the media landscape. Al Jazeera has been the only news channel with a correspondent in Gaza from the start of the attacks, and it presents the conflict in a totally different light as compared to what we are used to.

These are the principal observations that he makes:

  •  The framing is set differently: It is “War on Gaza” as opposed to “War against the Hamas”
  • The civilian casualties of the invasion are at the centre of the coverage. 
  • At the same time, the reporting is not populist or unfair: The Israeli government is being interviewed and confronted with questions about war crimes in Gaza.
  • Al Jazeera is not a propaganda medium for Arab governments. Spokespersons from Hamas, the Israeli government and Arab leaders all get their share of airtime.

Lau concludes that a counterveiling power has been established when it comes to framing the Israeli-Palestinina conflict. Al Jazeera in his opinion is a credible and relevant news source that could rock the boat of “Western” media hegemony.

I definitely agree to this. But I would go further even. I think that Al Jazeera also has opened up a space for dialogue that has not been there before. By giving airtime to Hamas and the Israeli government, it creates new communication channels between groups who refused to talk directly and thereby it also undermines the propaganda machines that work best when there is no dialogue at all. It presents an Israeli perspective to an Arab audience, and at the same time it can legitimately ask critical questions to the Israeli government that the “Western” media seem to refuse to ask. Another aspect: for me as a non-Arab and non-Muslim it is new to listen to Hamas spokespersons directly as it’s not something that I usually get to hear. 

Lau says he finds Al Jazeera coverage of the war in Gaza too one-sided, and he laments that Hamas power in Gaza is a blind spot in the coverage. I agree. But it is not really the point, because this not a matter of presenting the news in a way that an please an Arab, an Israeli and a Western audience. It can’t be done. It is primarily a matter of all sides listening to each other and – while expressing concerns, grievances or even hatred – to at least recognise the other side as human beings and as potential partners in dialogue. That would already be a step into the right direction.

Written by henrik

January 17, 2009 at 1:14 pm