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Israel plans to stop returning bodies of Palestinians

Palestinians mourn after the death of Muhammed Enver el-Akra (38), who was killed by Israeli forces in Gaza on 9 February 2017 [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]
Palestinians mourn the death of loved ones who were killed by Israeli forces in Gaza on 9 February 2017 [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]

All bodies of Palestinians killed by Israelis are to be held by the occupation authorities and not returned to their families for burial, regardless of their political affiliations, newly-installed Defence Minister Naftali Bennett has decreed. The Palestinian Authority condemned the decision, saying that it proves that Israel is a “terrorist entity”.

Adalah, a legal group which advocates for Arab rights in Israel, has called the practice “collective punishment”. It also condemned the decision as violating international and Israeli law, although in 2018 Israel passed a law to allow it to withhold the remains of Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers or who die in its jails.

“The instructions issued by Defence Minister Bennett are an attempt to trade in the bodies of deceased persons, who are entitled to respect and burial,” said Adalah. “No country in the world allows itself to hold and to use bodies as a card for negotiations and political bargaining. These practices violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law, including the UN Convention against Torture, which absolutely prohibits such cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”

READ: Palestinian prisoner in Israel jails dies of medical negligence

Israel holds on to the bodies of Palestinians killed by soldiers in order to prevent their funerals turning into celebrations of their martyrdom. It also uses them as bargaining chips to trade for the remains of Israeli soldiers killed on active service against the Palestinians in Gaza and believed to be held by Hamas.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has yet to respond to Jordan’s request on Tuesday for the body of a Palestinian prisoner to be freed for burial in the Hashemite Kingdom. Sami Abu Diak died in prison after suffering from intestinal cancer for three years. He was arrested by Israel in 2002 and sentenced to three life terms plus 30 years. Several operations in prison resulted in kidney and lung failure, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Commission explained.

Palestinian political prisoner Sami Abu Diak, 19 November 2019 [Twitter]

Palestinian political prisoner Sami Abu Diak died in prison due to medical negligence, 19 November 2019 [Twitter]

Palestinian remains are sometimes never returned, even after families have resorted to the legal system. Palestinian families who have lost their cases in the Israeli courts have to endure their relatives being buried in the infamous “Cemetery of Numbers”, wherein Israel holds the remains of more than 200 Palestinians. Mass graves are marked with numbers rather than names, and some of the bodies have been there since the start of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War.

According to Al Jazeera, a report published last year by Palestinian rights groups estimated that at least 249 Palestinians are buried in cemeteries in closed military zones across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. The bodies of nine others are being kept in hospital mortuaries in Tel Aviv.

READ: The political isolation of Palestinian prisoners

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