Saturday, January 16, 2021

Has Israel’s policy of withholding bodies backfired?

By Sara Cuña - January 23, 2016
Section: [Main News] [Opinion]
Tags: [Israeli government] [Extrajudicial Killing]

As the world watches the death toll in the Palestinian territories, Gaza, and Jerusalem rise since violence escalated in October 2015, observers debate whether this is the beginning of a new intifada, or uprising.


The recent uptake in violence - over 160 Palestinians and 20 Israelis have been killed since October -  has catalysed policy changes for Israel, some of which are reminiscent of previous intifadas.


This includes a policy of withholding remains of Palestinians killed by the Israeli army or settlers. But in recent weeks authorities in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv appear to be rolling back on this policy, with its effectiveness called into question.



On Dec. 17 last year, residents of Hebron demonstrated one last time for the return of the bodies of Palestinians killed confiscated by Israeli authorities. Some of the remains had been held by Israel for months.


By now, in the beginning of 2016, nearly all bodies have been returned, except for a handful that remain confiscated in East Jerusalem.


Israel’s policy of withholding bodies of slain Palestinians dates back in 1994, after a suicide bombing on a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip. The policy was used widely during the Second Intifada between 2000 and 2005, and was once again implemented in October 2015.


But the consistency in which this policy has been used since October of last year, marks the highest since then, Ma’an News Agency reported.


The Policy

On October 14 2015,  in the Security Cabinet of Israel, passed a motion, suggested by Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan, that Israel should not return to families the bodies of Palestinians killed in attacks.


Israel, he said, should do “anything to prevent the terrorist to receive honors and ceremonies.” Edran recommended that these bodies should be buried in Israeli army cemeteries, on the borders of Israel, created for this purpose.


According to Ma’an News Agency, an estimated number of 262 bodies are believed to be buried inside of Israeli territory in nameless graves. These numbers do not include 19 bodies that were buried under the same conditions during the Gaza War in 2014 and the ones held since October 2015.


Samir Awad, Professor of International Politics at Birzeit University near Ramallah, explains that, “death becomes different when it’s about a martyr.”


“We don’t mourn over a martyr,” Dr. Awad told the Palestine Monitor in his office at Birzeit, “we celebrate him.”


By passing this motion and violating International Law, Israel is “humiliating the families of the slain Palestinians, who are innocent.” But more than that, Awad continued, Israel is using its “disciplinary power” to “punish these families.”


According to Hisham Sharabati, Coordinator at Hebron Defense Committee, Israel’s implementation of this policy has made the families of victims subject to a “collective punishment” that’s being imposed by Israel.



On November 2015, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said that, “holding onto bodies is in itself not a deterrent of potential terrorists,” indicating a differing of opinions among Israeli leadership on the effectiveness of the policy.


Yaalon has also stated that the measure, aimed at preventing mass funerals organized by the families of the deceased, often lead to demonstrations.


But withholding bodies has shown the opposite effect, with the policy catalysing several protests in the occupied Palestinian territories.


“In fact,” Sharabati told the Palestine Monitor, “holding the bodies has given people a more personal reason to fight.”


According to Sharabati, the policy “backfired” for Israel, “and this is why they ended up returning almost all the bodies killed on the last few months.”


Palestinian Authority criticised

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has been criticised for not pressuring the Israeli government to hand over the bodies of killed Palestinians.


“All of the families are saying that the PA could have had negotiations to get the bodies out, but that they don’t actually have any trust in the PA. They think that if they don’t put any pressure on the PA themselves, they would not do anything at all”, Salwa Baker Muhammad, spokesperson for the Palestinian National Committee for Retrieving Bodies of Martyrs, told Ma’an News.


Awad added that, “the Palestinian Authority is in no position to pressure the Israeli Government on that or any other matter.” In fact, she said, it was “futile idea” to assume the PA could do anything.


But Sharabati went further, “PA plays only one role, and that’s the one of the mediator,” saying that they only “pass the message as Israel tells them.”


“They are not the Red Cross, they have one side [the Palestinians], and they should act like it.” But, he said, instead they, “just quiet things down.”

“When the fathers were protesting in Hebron for the bodies to be returned, some of them whispered to me that the PA was pressuring them not to protest.


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