The process of identifying the bodies of the more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians, killed by Hamas terrorists across southern Israel on Oct. 7 has been grueling and required innovative techniques to bring closure to families. Due to the fact that many of the victims were burned or mutilated beyond recognition, forensic experts and scientists have worked nonstop since the massacre to identify bodies.
Prof. Gila Kahila Bar-Gal from the Faculty of Agriculture, Food, and Environment at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is a world-renowned expert on wildlife and ancient DNA analysis. She told The Algemeiner about how she got involved in assisting with identifying the dead from Oct. 7.
In the aftermath of the attack, she said, “you had a lot of missing people and we needed to determine if they were kidnapped or killed.”
Thanks to her expertise in DNA analysis, Bar-Gal was able to volunteer herself. Her work at the National Center of Forensic Medicine (known as Abu Kabir) has been focused on “extracting DNA from burnt bones, many of which are from carcasses that are not intact.”
The scientist said that in her regular day-to-day life she has been working with museum and archeological samples that are primarily animal-based. Her skills in DNA extraction made the transition possible. “I am using the same techniques [as with animals],” Bar-Gal said, adding that she also studied anatomy, which helped with her ability to recognize parts of the human body.
Of course, the work can be emotionally draining, and she has only taken off one day during the war — and even that one day was to get things in order for her normal job.
Bar-Gal said the task has not been easy. But “when I decided to volunteer, I looked for where I could make an impact,” she explained. “You get there and understand you can’t think about the stories behind the samples,” because “having emotion will not help.”
The emotional toll of the job has been made slightly more manageable due to the fact that she works with numbers, instead of names. However, the professor said once there are positive matches and families are identified, she often looks at the stories of the fallen.
The work at Abu Kabir is not done, as there are a number of bone samples that still need to be analyzed. Bar-Gal said she plans on remaining at the forensic center after the war on a part-time basis. She has also started to train people at Abu Kabir in her methods.
The professor avoided praise when asked about the impact she is making by allowing families to know the fate of their loved ones.
“If you look around Israel, everyone is trying to volunteer, and people with different skills are trying to make their impact where they can,” she said. “I have to do what I have to do, and I’m in the place where I’m needed.”
“I am happy to have the opportunity and to give some of the families [closure],” Bar-Gal added. “This is what drives me.”
The post Meet the Scientist Helping to Identify Israel’s Oct. 7 Victims first appeared on Algemeiner.com.
Treasure Trove: How loans and taxes helped Israel build in the lean financial years after 1948
In the first few years after Israel’s independence, it incurred significant expenses to defend itself in the 1948 war, absorb 800,000 immigrants and build the state. Although significant financial support came from outside of Israel (including through the sale of Israel Bonds starting in 1951), a large portion of the costs were borne directly by […]
Texas University Plans to Close Qatar Campus Amid Scrutiny of Hamas Ties
On Thursday, the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents voted 7-1 to end its contract with the Qatar Foundation, which will result in the college’s Qatar campus shutting down over the next four years.
Texas A&M said it decided to reassess its relationship with Qatar after Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, in which the terrorist group murdered 1,200 Israelis and took more than 240 more hostage. It cites regional instability as one of the reasons for its decision. The Qatari government also has extensive ties with Hamas’ political and military leadership.
The Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development is funded by the Qatari government and is the institution that funds Texas A&M’s Qatar campus.
The Chair of the university’s Board of Regents said it “has decided that the core mission of Texas A&M should be advanced primarily within Texas and the United States.” He continued, explaining that “By the middle of the 21st century, the university will not necessarily need a campus infrastructure 8,000 miles away to support education and research collaborations.”
The decision also comes amid heightened scrutiny of Qatar’s role in American higher education — as it spent almost $5 billion on American universities between 2001 and 2021 — as well as its role in funding terrorist groups such as Hamas.
In an article for The Free Press in October, Eli Lake outlined what he saw as the significant influence Qatar is having on American higher education. He lists the universities that have gotten significant donations from Qatar, such as Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, and Northwestern. He also notes that Qatar’s influence goes beyond money, affecting policies and programs within specific academic departments as well. For example, the Qatar campus of Northwestern, which is home to the U.S.’s best journalism program, had an agreement with the terrorist-sympathetic Al-Jazeera that it would help train its students.
The significant attention paid to these relationships is likely driven by the steep increase in anti-Israel and pro-terrorist sentiment in the U.S., particularly on college campuses.
A 2023 report from the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy also concluded that concealed donations from foreign governments to U.S. educational institutions are associated with an increase in antisemitic incidents on campus and the erosion of liberal norms.
However, the Qatar Foundation believes the decision was made for political reasons. In a statement, it wrote: “It is deeply disappointing that a globally respected academic institution like Texas A&M University has fallen victim to such a campaign and allowed politics to infiltrate its decision-making processes. At no point did the Board attempt to seek out the truth from Qatar Foundation before making this misguided decision.”
There have been no indications thus far that other universities that receive a significant amount of Qatari funding, or operate campuses in Qatar, are reconsidering their relationship.
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Antisemitic Vandals Strike Hillel Building at University of Leeds in UK
The Hillel House of University of Leeds was vandalized on Thursday night, raising further concerns about a hateful campus climate and rising antisemitism across the United Kingdom, particularly since Hamas’ October 7 attacks.
The vandals, according to pictures shared online, graffitied “FREE PALESTINE” on the building and additional scribble on two window panes.
“We are heartbroken and angry that after an uplifting and inspiring Challah Bake, our JSoc Hillel House was defaced with antisemitic graffiti,” Leeds JSoc, which uses the building for club meetings, said in a statement also signed by the Union of Jewish Students, an advocacy group. “It is shocking and outrageous that those who hate us would stoop to this level.”
The groups noted that a University of Leeds professor may be responsible for leading anti-Zionist to the building, alleging that he shared its address “for the sole purpose of intimidating Jewish students on campus.”
“We are working with CST and the police to ensure that those who committed this crime get the consequences they deserve,” the group added.
Anti-Zionists extremists struck elsewhere on Thursday, storming University of Birmingham with socialists and other far-left groups while holding signs that said, “Zionists off our campus” and “75 years of illegal occupation!” Many concealed their faces, covering them with keffiyeh.
“Jewish students are feeling less and less safe at university because of these vile antisemitic acts,” National Jewish Assembly (NJA), a Jewish civil rights nonprofit, said in a statement about the incidents. “It’s time we say enough. Jewish students deserve and must feel safe on campus.”
Thursday’s incidents followed a set-back for the academic Jewish community. Earlier this week, it was announced that a UK government agency which arbitrates disputes over employment law ruled that University of Bristol lacked standing to fire sociologist David Miller, an extreme anti-Zionist who was accused of harassing Jewish students and promoting antisemitic tropes, and said his “anti-Zionist beliefs qualified as a philosophical belief and as a protected characteristic.”
Pervasive antisemitism and anti-Zionism at UK universities is forcing members of the Jewish academic community to conceal their identities on campus, according to a June 2023 report issued by the Parliamentary Task Force on Antisemitism in Higher Education, a committee of lawmakers and established by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2022 in response to complaints of anti-Jewish racism and discrimination.
“We were told it was commonplace for Jewish students to choose not to wear certain clothing or jewelry around campus because it would make them visibly identifiable as Jewish,” the Task Force wrote in the report, titled Understanding Jewish Experience in Higher Education, noting that academic staff “also raised important comparable concerns about negativity surrounding their Jewish identity.”
The Task Force recommended that all universities adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which, it said, has not, contrary to the claims of its many opponents, diminished free speech and academic freedom.
Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
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