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The Story of 'N'

14 December, 2001
Tel-Aviv Times (translated from Hebrew)

  Evidence from the Torture Chamber
  By correspondent Shay Lahav




The story of 'N', who took undercover footage of primate experiments conducted at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem

While you are reading this story, the hero of the following article is living far away, at a remote rain forest in the Amazon area of Peru. 'N' is working there to plant trees that were cut down by humans, in order to give back the local monkeys their lost habitat. The day following this interview, 'N', a 25 year-old woman from Kfar Saba [an Israeli city] left Israel with a stated purpose of never coming back. A main factor in this decision is connected to other monkeys who are held inside laboratories around Israel.

To be more specific, we are talking about Malish, Fred, Jade and Simon, the monkeys that 'N' took footage of, inside the basement of the Hebrew University in Givat Ram, Jerusalem, at the time that the university researches were drilling holes in their skulls, dripping oxygen water in them, fixing their heads to chairs and keeping them standing for a whole day to recover from surgery.

Even though laboratory monkeys are officially held inside academic institutions all around Israel, never before did the public see any footage from inside these laboratories, and not by chance. The entities involved in these experiments - academic institutions, researchers, drug companies and the owners of the breeding farms supplying monkeys for research, are not interested in publicizing the horrific pictures, knowing that such coverage would inevitably stir up a public debate, with questions rising in regard to the necessity of such experiments, the conditions in which the monkeys are being held, the skill level of the researchers, etc.

'N' was the first person who was able to penetrate the site of these experiments and document them in footage. Among that was the footage exposed on the Israeli TV channel 2, three weeks ago. She did it while posing as a janitor at the animal compound in Givat Ram, while using different undercover cameras.

"It's not as if the situation is better in Peru or in other parts of the world", she explains, "but at least there they abuse (animals) in Spanish, so I can't understand. The thought that these things are taking place in my country and by its scientific establishment is unbearable".

McGuyver from Jerusalem

'N' has been active for several years in environmental struggles, such as fighting globalization and the trans-Israel highway. She went through veterinary technician training and started taking Biology classes for B.S. degree at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

"During the first 6 months of school", she recalls, "I was fighting issues such as whether we need to dissect sharks or abuse locust, together with a group of students we set a precedent in which we were not required to participate in such experiments and we had to submit a written assignment instead."

"From the beginning of the year there were leaflets hanging on the walls looking for "people to work in the animal house". I was very interested to know what was going on in there. I called the number displayed in the ad and scheduled an interview. I met with Tsvi Yona, an old person who had been working in there for 35 years and is in charge of the animal house. He showed me the animals: rabbits, mice, a turkey, and the four monkeys, three of whom with some device drilled inside their heads. I was suppose to be his helper, work between 6 to 9 in the morning cleaning cages and feeding the animals."

"At the end of the interview I told him I would go back home and think, because I was terrified of what I had seen there. I started calling different organizations to find out if it would be worth it to go inside there. I got in touch with a certain organization which helped me with equipment, undercover cameras etc. I told Tsvi Yona that I would be coming in to work the next day."

'N' is more or less the antithesis to the person you can imagine in such a situation. She is a short skinny girl that talks in a silent and shy manner. Any assertiveness or fame seeking is beyond her. Only the determination glowing from her dark eyes might explain how she managed to work for two months inside a place that became a torture chamber for her. "Yona started teaching me how to clean the cages", she tells. "Always starting with the rabbits, in the same order of cages and using the same body motions. During the two weeks I worked with him I wasn't able to learn the exact order of body motions and it caused him a lot of frustration. He shouted at me, lectured, held my hands from behind while holding me and cleaning with my hands. One day he told me that if I would succeed in learning the secret of cleaning shit he would let me work alone on the holiday eve. The idea of spending several hours alone with the monkeys and my own set of keys was alluring."

A Monkey for 3,000 Dollars

The only reason that 'N' continued scrubbing cages was her anticipation for filming equipment she received. The expected cameras didn't arrive until after two weeks had passed, in which Yona was threatening to fire her. The first time she arrived to work with the equipment did not come out as a remarkable success. "When I came back home I discovered that no picture was taken, only white snow."

"When I went back to the animal house Yona took me to meet the researchers. It was in this way I met the researcher Volodya Yakovlev (E-mail: ), who was very excited from the interest I expressed in his research. From talking to him I discovered these are Macaca fascicularis monkeys [crab-eating macaques] who were purchased from the Mazor [BFC] primate breeding farm for $3,000. Yakovlev told me several things that amazed me, such as: "People don't realize that if the monkey's life [inside the laboratories] were not good, they would not work. There are some people who aren't even willing to dissect a frog", or "several years ago they found a monkey infected with Ebola in a primate breeding farm in the USA. The government burned down the entire farm - with the monkeys in it. They could have tested them, one by one without harming the business, but the government does not care about private people money".

After several hours of discussion we went down to bring the monkey named Malish, the smallest and sweetest out of the four monkeys there. At that time his head was still normal [prior to any experiments], and he was just being trained. We brought him up in the elevator using the monkey restraint chair covered with a box. The researchers explained that they covered his head so he does not get scared from moving around. We placed him in a tiny dark room with a television. We closed the door and watched him through closed-circuit television screens in another room close by. The television screen Malish was watching displayed small sequences of different shapes, with one of the shapes repeating in the different sequences. At the moment he saw a shape that had been displayed before, he was supposed to press a button. When he pressed the button correctly, several drops of water came out from the tube connected close to his mouth. Before the training Malish was not given any drinking water in order to keep him thirsty.

Tanya Orlov, the second researcher, came in the room and Volodya introduced us. I was able to establish a good relationship with them and to be in a position that they would call me before any surgery so I could come and help them. That way I was able to quit my job at the animal house."

Two months of Misery

'N' was indeed spared of Tsvi Yona's hassles in the animal house, but never imagined the mental stress she was about to deal with several days later, misery that was stretched between May 15th to July 19th this year. Before arriving to the first surgery, she was equipped with modern filming devices. "Apart from the two researchers", she tells, "there were two small animal veterinarians who knew nothing about monkeys, and Ifat and Uzi, the Ein Kerem [another Jerusalem research facility] animal house veterinarians, who came as guests. They only wanted me to watch, so I could help in the following surgeries that were going to take place without any veterinarians present."

"Malish was lying down on his stomach on a special device that was attached to him through the ears, eyes and mouth. His head was fixed about ten centimeters above the device. At the beginning they shaved his head and cleaned it. The cut through the skin and flesh and exposed his skull. In the skull they drilled two holes using an electrical drill. In one hole they inserted a screw that is used to attach him to the chair and keep him immobilized, and in the second hole they inserted a chamber leading to the brain cavity. They inserted a steel wire into his eye to make him look straight."

"In order to fix the chambers inside the two holes they screwed 20 more screws in his skull using an electric drill. They covered everything with a red plastic cover. The surgery took 6 hours. The atmosphere in the room was great. The veterinarians explained such basic things to the researchers regarding the anesthesia, that even as a failing veterinarian technician I was astonished at their lack of knowledge. They were joking a lot among themselves. The researchers were telling about all kinds of medical screw-ups they did in the past which cost some monkeys their lives. I was sitting on the side, hoping not to faint."

"In the middle of the surgery I left for a 15 minute break and I ran to the restroom to check to see if the camera was working. While I was checking the camera, a short-circuit happened and a flame came out of the camera. I was sitting in the restroom with a burning camera laughing. I realized all this suffering was not documented and I felt much worse than before. At the time of the surgery, Ifat the veterinarian suggested the researchers give them the Valium she brought with her, which expired in 1996. They refused, saying that they already have enough Valium that was already expired. She told them that in the Ein-Kerem animal house they buy 1 year old monkeys from the Mazor [BFC] primate farm that weigh only one kilo [2.2 pounds] on arrival and only add one more kilo to their weight as they grow. She explained it is the result of the "non-optimal" conditions, in which they are held."

"At the end of the surgery the veterinarians left and I suggested the researchers take a lunch break after their hard work. They happily agreed and left me alone with Malish. Malish was sitting on the floor recovering from the anesthesia. I closed all the doors and took pictures with still and video cameras that I took out of my bag. I was able to close everything and open the doors a second before they came back. The researchers placed a plastic leash on Malish and put him in the monkey restraint chair, in which he was half standing and unable to move his head that is fixed upwards to prevent him from swallowing any saliva. He was left in that position until that evening, contrary to the law that forbids leaving him in such a position for more than 10 minutes. I gave a fruit meal to the rest of the monkeys, while I was taking pictures of Malish recovering. The researchers thanked me and told me they will call me anytime there is something interesting".

All for an Article

The "something interesting" came soon afterward, in the form of another surgery conducted on Malish. "He was shivering for a week following the surgery", tells 'N' while she experiences a different kind of shiver,"(he) simply could not recover. The next surgery, which took place a week later, was briefer, only 3 hours. Malish was thrown into a frantic breathing distress and I was totally hysterical. My job was to check his pulse, since there were not any veterinarians around any more [during surgeries].

Several days later Jade [one of the other monkeys in the laboratory] underwent surgery. He had three holes in his head: one used to keep him restrained in the chair and two others used to insert probes. Tanya cleaned the holes with oxygen water that fermented inside his brain. I wasn't even able to film it out of panic. Then she injected him with a substance that paralyzed his brain cells, according to a sketch she had. That day she injected the substance to the wrong place. The monkey started drooling and almost fainted. He didn't do the assignments he was trained to do. Tanya didn't even know exactly where she injected the substance to and started lecturing me about the different parts of the brain. She said: "This is very interesting, maybe it is worth checking". That is the typical way - experimenting and mistaking".

"A three year long research was conducted. The research was trying to investigate which specific brain cells are active while using the visual memory. For that purpose, they use electrodes and a special computer program, which analyze the brain cells activity. All the surgeries were being done, knowing that this computer program was about to arrive, but it never arrived even after two years of research".

"I passed on the findings of the research to medical doctor Elad Feigin from the "Shearey Tzedek" hospital, and it was discovered that the researchers had a certain theory regarding the monkeys' visual memory, which was slightly contradicted during the experiments. It awarded them with an article in the prestigious magazine "Nature", that's all. No scientific breakthrough. The monkeys were all tortured for this. In the next surgery of the monkey named Simon I was caught. Tanya had already suspected me and when I arrived she said: "You have an undercover camera, right?" I was exhausted, after more than two months and I started to stutter. She said, "It is really not nice what you did", I answered: "And what about what you are doing?" We started a long argument debating whether what they are doing is legal. Unfortunately, she was right in most points. At the end Tanya told me: "I want you to go". Half an hour after I left Dr. Roni Kalman (E-mail: ), who is in charge on all animal houses at the Hebrew University, called me to notify me that I am not allowed to go inside any laboratory. It's not as if I could have anyway. In the previous two months I stopped eating and sleeping, I was a wreck. It prevented me from studying, it seemed really sick to submit school assignments inside a building where monkeys are being tortured in its basement, as if nothing is wrong. Eventually I stopped attending the university. This story gave me a feeling that 'I want to escape from this messed up country'. In Peru at least, the shit is not going to be my country's."

A war inside the establishment

The images 'N' exposed, as well as her descriptions, caused immediate shock among most of the public. But there is still a basic myth flowing in the air, according to which such experiments are supposed to save human lives. In other words: it is horrible what these monkeys are going through but there is no other choice.

Dr. Elad Feigin, 44, a senior surgeon in the "Shearey-Zedek" hospital, thinks differently and he is one of the first medical doctors in Israel who publicly speaks against animal experiments, and practically against the medical establishment that they belong to. "A biology student in the Hebrew University who does not agree to participate in animal experiments", he says, "gets a lower mark. He is discouraged and then, when his teacher tells him that the mark can be bent, he agrees. There is a 100% trust in this system, but when you check different studies in depth, there are 30% laps in the results. The medical establishment in Israel is hostile to views such as mine. Six months ago I circulated a petition in my hospital calling for an end to animal experiments. Only five doctors signed, even though several dozen others agree with my views. One doctor who signed asked that her signature be taken off the petition since she is afraid of hurting her academic promotion. It is also connected to her work in the hospital, because if you are a professor you get promoted. Personally speaking, this conversation in certainly not going to help my own promotion".

Feigin sees a principal moral problem in using animals for experiments. But he deliberately emphasizes the practical aspect of the argument that bypasses the moral question. "I am troubled by people such as professor Asa Kasher, who says it is possible to cause suffering to animals in order to cure humans", he explains, "without dealing with the question whether it can cure or not, I haven't yet found an animal experiment that was justified. In the 21 century it is possible to deal with public health research without using any animals, but rather through human cell cultures and utilizing new technologies of computers and simulators. The medical history is full of such (animal) experiments that only caused much harm."

"For example, Dr. Savin, who invented the polio vaccine, told the United States Senate in 1948 that the use of the vaccine was delayed for a long time because of a wrong perception that was based on monkeys as a model, and was found efficient only later in human clinical trials; In England during the 80's, a drug treatment for inhalation killed 3,500 kids, after being successfully tested on dozens of animals. Penicillin kills hamsters and guinea pigs, if it was tested on these animals it would have never been used to treat humans. The thalidomide, an anti-nausea drug given to pregnant women caused the birth of babies missing limbs or with fins, was put on the market after being successfully tested on animals."

"There is one study which showed that there is a less than 50% chance that animals would react and have the same side affects to drugs such as humans have. So what is the idea in doing it? Not to mention military experiments, in which doctors are trained to perform emergency surgeries by performing experiments on dogs and cats for several hours. The anatomy of a dog is very different from the human anatomy. Dogs have fur, different type of skin etc, so how can you learn from dogs about human procedures such as inserting a tube to the trachea or inserting an infusion to a central vein? And worse, the Israeli army refuses to give commissioned ranks to doctors who refuse to take part in these experiments. The army will recruit them and count on them but will then punish them. If you take away the freedom of conscience from young medical doctors, don't expect them to make honest decisions later".

Ita Shtein, 35, worked for 15 years as a laboratory technician in the laboratory of the immunology department at the Hebrew University in Ein-Kerem. The laboratory worked mainly on cancer research and the experiments were performed on mice. Her conclusions after 15 years or work there are unequivocal: "Today it is possible to drastically minimize these experiments. Nowadays every researcher with money can buy animals and use them, and that is an unbearable phenomena. It is hard to stop, because we are dealing with people's careers. Changing the system requires a lot of money. Not to mention that each experiment also opens the door to many other experiments, which translates to money and fame. I am convinced that more than half of the experiments I was involved with were completely unnecessary. Killing animals is the easy way. Personally, I feel very sorry for what I have done throughout the years, and in my opinion most of the workers there suffer from severe remorse."


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