The Israeli occupation authorities today handed over the remains of Palestinian fighters' bodies to the Palestinian Authority. The bodies have been buried in secret military "numbered graves" in an Israeli settlement in the occupied West bank. This practice was adopted by the Israelis in the early 1970s.
Many complaints have been lodged over the years to the Israeli occupation authorities, and anti-occupation action has taken place to have the practice stopped, but to no avail. Some activists even said that the Israelis were carrying out autopsies on the bodies and trafficking in human organs.
According to Dr Saleh al Na'ami, a Palestinian researcher, a lot of studies have been carried out on this issue. "Ariel Dad, an Israeli military physician who is now in the Knesset," said Dr. Al-Na'ami, "admitted that corpses of Palestinian fighters were used for medical experiments."
Palestinian officials said that they have received the remains of 91 bodies in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank. In total, 99 bodies have been handed over in cities around the West Bank; a further 12 were sent to Gaza via the Erez Crossing.
The release of the fighters' bodies was one of the conditions of the deal struck by Israel with the Palestinian prisoners to end their hunger strike. The head of the civil affairs committee in the Palestinian Authority, Hussien al-Shiekh, said that President Mahmoud Abbas has worked hard to get the bodies back. Ynet News reported that this measure is "a goodwill gesture" by the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as a push for the stalled peace process.
There were official and popular celebrations at the handover of the remains of the fighters. PA officials organised a central reception in the presidential headquarter in Ramallah after which the remains were taken to different cities and villages for burial. A security official in Gaza said that the people are ready to receive the bodies with a 21-gun salute before burial.
Family members of the martyrs say that it is as if their sons have come home alive. Umm Haidar from Gaza, the mother of Ramiz Ubaid whose body was kept by Israel for 16 years, says that she feels "he is coming back alive and this is a happy occasion".
Umm Badr from Al-Khalil (Hebron), the mother of Ahmed Badr, said that this will be a time to remember her son. "What will make me patient is my belief that he is in Paradise," she added.
Other relatives of the deceased have expressed their happiness that their loved ones are being buried in local cemeteries and that they will be able to visit their graves.