Sunday, March 16, 2014

A new book: Over Their Dead Bodies Power, Knowledge, and the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Israel

Over Their Dead Bodies is the first book written in Hebrew which addresses the social and cultural aspects of the discourse and practice in the Israeli National Institute of Forensic Medicine, in Abu Kabir.

The Israeli public was exposed to forensic medicine primarily through foreign television series, wherein over the course of 45 minutes, the forensic experts definitively establish the cause of death or identity of the unidentified corpses. 

The Israeli public also learned of the Institute via the Israeli press which has related to the Institute on the one hand as all-powerful during periods of terrorist attacks, and on the other as the great organ thief. 

In all these respects, the Institute has been considered a separate entity from the society within which is it located. In contrast, Meira Weiss’s book discusses the workings of the Institute as a result of its being a part of the  Israeli society. Each chapter addresses a different social issue and the Institute’s role in relation to the issue in question.

Terrorist attacks, treatment and identification of soldier’s remains, identification of the “Yemenite Children”, harvesting corpses without consent, the murder of Jewish and non-Jewish women, foreign workers, determining the cause of death of the Palestinian child Hilmi Shusha, the autopsy of Palestinian “terrorists”, the discourse surrounding Yitzhak Rabin’s autopsy – all these topics and more are addressed in the current book, as they related to social and cultural processes which enable the discourse and the practice of the Institute. 

Over Their Dead Bodies is based on anthropological fieldwork performed over the course of many years, which included  participant observation at the different departments of the Institute (autopsy rooms, family reception office, biology lab), interviews with Institute staff members and other related parties (senior officials in the police forensics department, directors of the Hadassah hospital skin bank), and document analysis.

The book is infused with raw quotes from the author’s fieldnotes, alongside the description of her personal coping involved in performing fieldwork at the National Institute of Forensic Medicine.  

Meira Weiss is a Professor Emeritus specializing in Anthropology of Medicine, Science and the Body. She has published many books and articles, among them "Conditional Love" (Bergin @Garvey) and “The Chosen Body: The Politics of the Body in Israeli Society” (Stanford University Press). Recently she published the novel “Semblance of Absence” which takes place during the Yom Kippur War.