Withholding bodies of dead Palestinians and not returning them to their families for proper burial, is a cruel practice and a violation of international humanitarian law and United Nations Convention against Torture, said the Haifa-based Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel said Friday.

The Palestinian News and Info Agency (WAFA) reported that the new Israeli ‘Defence’ Minister, Naftali Bennett, ordered all the bodies of Palestinians who attacked, or are alleged to have attacked Israelis, to be withheld from their families.

Adalah’s General Director, Attorney Hassan Jabareen, responded by stating, “No country in the world allows itself to hold and to use bodies as a card for negotiation and political bargaining. These practices violate international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law, including the UN Convention against Torture, which absolutely prohibits such cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”

Israel currently holds the corpses of 51 Palestinians, according Muhammad Alyan, representative of the families whose sons or daughters have been withheld since April 2016.

Adalah represented family members of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces and who are being held by the state before the Israeli Supreme Court. Adalah stressed that, “We will challenge this decision and work to rescind these instructions before Israeli courts and internationally, including through the UN human rights treaty bodies and other forums.”

On 9 September, the Israeli Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, reversed an earlier judgment and ruled that the State of Israel may continue to hold the bodies of Palestinians as bargaining chips.

The ruling confirmed that Israeli emergency regulations permit the Israeli military to order the interim burial of bodies designated as deceased enemies, based on considerations that take into account state security, civil order, and the need to negotiate for the return of the bodies of Israeli soldiers.

The Supreme Court had previously ruled on 14 December, 2017, that the state has no authority to hold the bodies of Palestinians as bargaining chips, and that it must transfer bodies to the families of the deceased for burial. It reversed this decision following the state’s 2018 request for a second hearing.

In Adalah’s view, the 2019 Supreme Court ruling was one of the most extreme judgements since 1948 and marked “the first time in history that a court, anywhere in the world, authorized state authorities to hold the bodies of individuals under its control.

International laws governing occupation apply in this case, therefore it undermines the most basic principles of universal humanity, and violates both Israeli law and international law, it said.

Photo: Shadi Hatem