Israel, Palestinian militants use bodies as bargaining chips

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More than a year after his son was killed by Israeli forces in disputed circumstances in the occupied West Bank, Mustafa Erekat is still searching for his remains.

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It is one of dozens of cases in which Israel is holding the remains of Palestinians killed in the conflict, preventing attacks and potentially exchanging them for the remains of two Israeli soldiers held by the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. citing the need to

Palestinians and human rights groups see the practice of keeping bodies as a form of collective punishment that further hurts the bereaved families.


“They have no right to hold my son, and it is my right to have a good funeral for my son,” Arecat said. The Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center, a Palestinian rights group, says Israel has been holding the bodies of at least 82 Palestinians since the policy’s inception in 2015. It says there are burials in many secret cemeteries where the plots are marked only by plaques with numbers.

Hamas has kept the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed during the 2014 Gaza war at an undisclosed location. Last year, Israel’s security cabinet expanded the policy to include the remains of all Palestinians killed during alleged attacks, not just those linked to Hamas. Israel considers Hamas, which rules Gaza, a terrorist group.

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Defense Minister Benny Gantz said at the time that keeping the remains would prevent attacks and help ensure the return of Israeli prisoners and remains. The Defense Ministry declined to comment on the policy.

One of the bodies is that of Erekat’s son Ahmed, who Israeli officials say was shot dead in June 2020 after deliberately plowing a military post. Security camera footage showed the car ramming into a group of Israeli soldiers and one of them flying. Back. Ahmed gets out of the car and raises one of his hands and falls to the ground before being shot several times. His family says it was an accident.

Mustafa said his son was passing through the checkpoint on his way to the nearby city of Bethlehem to buy clothes for his sister’s wedding later that night. The shooting attracted widespread attention, as Ahmed was the nephew of Saeb Erekat, a veteran Palestinian spokesman and negotiator who died last year. Ahmed was soon to be married, his father said: “He had a house ready for him.”

They still do not know where the remains of their son are. Omar Shakir, director of Israel and Palestine at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said Israel had “turned corpses into bargaining chips.” The policy is “deliberately and unlawfully punishing the families of the deceased who are not accused of any wrongdoing,” he said. Israel has a long history of prisoner exchange and living with its enemies.

In 2011, it traded more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for an Israeli soldier who had been captured by Palestinian terrorists five years earlier and was being held in Gaza. In 2008, it traded the remains of five Lebanese prisoners and nearly 200 Lebanese and Palestinians killed in fighting, including a notorious terrorist, for the remains of two Israeli soldiers captured by the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group two years earlier.

Egypt is mediating talks on a similar deal that would return the remains of two soldiers, as well as two Israeli civilians believed to be alive, who were held by Hamas in Gaza. Meanwhile, the Erekats and other Palestinian families must approach Israel’s Supreme Court in a process that includes multiple hearings that could drag on for years. The court rejected Arecats’ recent appeal, citing confidential information submitted by the military. Mustafa Erekat says that the system is rigged.

He accused the court of dragging its feet until the policy of keeping remains was expanded and then relied on secret evidence. Mohamed Aliyan, spokesman for six Palestinian families who petitioned the Supreme Court for the return of their relatives’ bodies in 2016, said the judges initially favored the families before the military’s appeal.

“They always go with the demands of the military,” Alien told the Associated Press, “they are afraid to take any decision against them.” Liron Liebman, an expert in military law at the Israel Democracy Institute, said there are situations where certain information cannot be made public for fear of exposing protected sources or special operations.

“Each party has the right to request an adjournment of the hearing, and the court will grant the request if it thinks it is for a reasonable cause,” Liebman told the AP. Even if a family’s petition is successful, the removal of bodies of relatives may pose more challenges, especially in cases where the bodies were buried decades ago.

Rami Saleh, director of the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center, said his organization has dealt with cases where Israeli officials were unable to locate bodies and also where Palestinian family members had to take DNA to confirm the remains of a relative. was required to be tested. Mustafa said he had not given up hope and intended to challenge the Supreme Court’s decision.

Meanwhile, he and Aalian, spokesmen for other families, join weekly strikes, calling for the release of all bodies held by the Israeli authorities. Aaliya said, “The feeling of not being able to bury the dead body of my relative is more painful than his death.”

Reporting by Jack Jeffery


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