JERUSALEM, Wednesday, September 02, 2020 (WAFA) - Israel’s security cabinet announced today that it would not allow the return of the bodies of Palestinians killed by Israeli occupation forces to their families for burial.
Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which is representing the family of Ahmad Erekat in the Israeli Supreme Court petition demanding the return of his body for burial, issued a response this evening to the security cabinet’s decision:
"The Israeli security cabinet’s decision to withhold the bodies of Palestinians is extremely problematic and is driven clearly by motivations for vengeance. The policy of using human bodies as bargaining chips violates the most basic universal values and international law which prohibit cruel and inhuman treatment. This position has indeed already been supported by three Israeli Supreme Court justices. This is an extreme and barbaric policy and there is no country in the world that would adopt it. Israel’s Supreme Court will now demand an examination of Israel’s continued withholding of bodies and seek the legal justification for the continued suffering of Palestinian families affected by this decision. Adalah will continue to work against any policy of collective punishment."
Ahmad Erekat was shot dead by Israeli Border Police officers at the "Container" checkpoint in Abu Dis outside of Jerusalem on June 23.
Israeli authorities confiscated Erekat's body following the killing and have since refused to return him to his family for burial.
Adalah has been leading the battle in the Israeli Supreme Court aimed at compelling Israeli authorities to return the body of 27-year-old Ahmad Erekat and filed a petition on June 30.
In the petition, Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher argued that Israeli authorities are withholding Erekat's body without authority and that every person has the constitutional right to be buried with dignity and within a short period of time following his or her death. The right of the deceased to be buried and the right of a family to bury its child are established in Israel's Basic Law – Human Dignity and Liberty, and via a series of Israeli Supreme Court decisions.
"Withholding the body of a deceased individual is against the law," Adalah wrote in the petition. "There is no [Israeli] law that allows the withholding of a body without at least stating the reason for doing so. There is, likewise, no law that allows authorities to refrain from providing information to the deceased's family."
Mustafa Erekat, the father of Ahmad Erekat, reflected on the situation when the petition was filed:
“Withholding Ahmad's body is an inhumane act that multiplies many times over the torture that our family is now experiencing. Ahmad’s mother and his sisters have not stopped crying since his execution."
Withholding the body of a deceased individual from his or her family also constitutes a violation of international law, most notably the international convention prohibiting torture and cruel and inhumane treatment of human beings.
Indeed, the United Nations Committee Against Torture called on Israel in June 2016 to take all necessary steps to return bodies to families for burial as soon as possible.
According to Palestinian human rights organizations, Israel is withholding bodies of more than 60 Palestinians killed by Israeli occupation forces in recent years under the pretext of being used as "bargaining chips" in potential prisoner swaps. In addition, around 250 bodies of Palestinians, also killed by Israelis, are kept in numbered graves in cemeteries in the north of Israel, some withheld since the start of the Israeli occupation in 1967.