Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights (Gaza) sent an urgent letter yesterday, 1 April 2018, to senior Israeli officials demanding they order the immediate return of the bodies of two Palestinian residents of Gaza to their families for burial.
The two men were killed by Israeli military gunfire during the protest demonstrations on Friday 30 March 2018 and their bodies were subsequently taken from inside the Gaza Strip by Israeli troops.
Adalah Attorney Suhad Bishara, in her letter to Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and Chief Military Advocate General (MAG) Sharon Afek, wrote that:
“The taking and holding of these bodies is a blatant violation of the right to dignity of both the deceased and their families. This right is anchored in international humanitarian law, in international human rights law, and in Israeli [Supreme] Court rulings. The right of every individual to a respectable burial without any undo delays is an integral part of the right to dignity, which is granted not just to the living but also to the deceased. The right of the deceased and of his or her family to dignity is recognized by the court and is anchored in Israel’s Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.”
Al Mezan and Adalah also stressed that the holding of bodies contradicts not only the principles of international human rights law but also the principles of international humanitarian law (IHL). Within the context of occupation and therefore given the applicability of IHL, the bodies of individuals killed must be returned to their families for burial with dignity. IHL prohibits using bodies for political purposes or as bargaining chips.
The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that the state has no authority to take and hold bodies, regardless of the affiliation of the deceased individual or the circumstances under which he or she was killed.
BACKGROUND: Israel holding Palestinian bodies
2016 and 2017: Adalah worked on a series of cases in which Palestinians – residents of East Jerusalem and citizens of Israel alike – were killed by Israeli security forces. The Palestinians were alleged to have been carrying out attacks against Israeli civilians or police, while many were killed despite posing no immediate danger. Israeli police and other forces continued to implement a policy of withholding the bodies of these killed Palestinians and/or imposing restrictions on the release of the bodies, despite having no legal authority to do so.
In these cases, Adalah challenged the arbitrary use of state power before the Israeli Supreme Court, and secured the release of the bodies of several Palestinians from police custody to their families for burial.
Dozens of bodies of Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank have also been held by the Israeli military authorities.
January 2017: Israel’s Security Cabinet decided that Israel would hold on to the bodies of Palestinians who carried out attacks and those belonging to Hamas.
July 2017: In response to a petition by Adalah to release the bodies of three men, Palestinian citizens of Israel who shot and killed two police officers at the Al Aqsa Mosque, the Supreme Court ruled that there was no Israeli law specifically authorizing the police to hold bodies.
December 2017: The Supreme Court ruled that the state has no authority to hold the bodies of 16 Palestinians from the West Bank as bargaining chips. The state asked for second hearing in the case, which Adalah and others opposed. However, the Court granted the state’s request in February 2018, and the hearing on the case will take place in June 2018. The bodies of the deceased Palestinians remain with the state.
March 2018: The Knesset enacted a new law that allows the Israeli police to hold the bodies of Palestinians killed by the police or other security forces until families agree to preconditions on funeral arrangements. The law applies to Palestinian citizens of Israel, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, and to the Israeli police only.
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