On Thursday, 22 April 2021, Israeli authorities returned the body of Yousef Abu Jazar, 15, to his family in the Gaza Strip, nearly three years after he was shot and killed by Israeli forces. After the decision was communicated to Al Mezan on Wednesday, 21 April 2021, which included a request for the presence of a first-degree relative for DNA verification, a lawyer from Al Mezan accompanied members of the child’s family to Erez crossing. The body was then transferred to Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis for forensic assessment, before burial.
Nearly three years ago, on 29 April 2018, Israeli forces shot Yousef as he was approaching the separation fence, east of Rafah, ultimately killing him. His family sought legal assistance from Al Mezan after being informed by the Palestinian Liaison Office of Israel’s decision to withhold the body of their deceased son. Al Mezan engaged with the Israeli authorities for the release of the body for over two years without success. After exhausting all other legal avenues, in September 2020, Al Mezan petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice, demanding the return of Yousef’s body to his family for a proper burial in accordance with international law.
Subsequently, the state requested and was granted multiple extensions from the Court, before a hearing for its response to Al Mezan’s petition was scheduled for next week, on 28 April 2021. Preempting a judgement by the Court, the public prosecution informed Al Mezan of the pending release of the child’s body.
Al Mezan deplores Israel’s long-held policy of withholding Palestinian bodies for use as leverage in political exercises of the state, at the expense of anguished families. The policy constitutes a violation of international legal standards – including customary international humanitarian law – amounts to collective punishment of the families, and according to the UN Committee Against Torture, may amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The sweeping order that allows for this practice in Israel undermines the principles of human dignity and aggravates the suffering of families. Nevertheless, as of 30 March 2018, Israel has been withholding the bodies of 22 Palestinians from Gaza alone, including five children.
Al Mezan calls on the international community to take prompt action to pressure Israeli authorities to return the bodies of other Palestinians and to end all forms of collective punishment and ill-treatment against the Palestinian people.
 See customary IHL rule 114: “Parties to the conflict must endeavour to facilitate the return of the remains of the deceased upon request of the party to which they belong [...]”