HAIFA, Wednesday, August 18, 2021 (WAFA) - In response to the Israeli Supreme Court's decision approving the continued hold of Ahmed Erekat's deceased body by the Israeli army, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel accused Israel of committing a war crime by holding Palestinian bodies as hostages.
"Israel's policy of holding Palestinian bodies – 81 people since 2015 - is inhumane and degrading, and a blatant violation of international law, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court," said Adalah in a statement.
"The Court's decision today gives a free hand to the military, without governmental authority, and retroactively approves such an illegal practice. Israel must immediately return the dozens of Palestinian bodies it currently holds."
The Israeli Supreme Court rejected a petition on Wednesday, 18 August 2021, filed by Adalah on behalf of Mustafa Erekat, against the Israeli army's continuous hold of the deceased body of his son, Ahmad Erekat.
Ahmad Erekat, a 27-year old Palestinian man, was shot and killed by Israeli Border Police at the "Container" checkpoint in Abu Dis on 23 June 2020, after the car he was driving hit a policewoman who was standing at the checkpoint.
The Israeli military decided to hold Erekat's body even though he did not belong to Hamas, and there was no allegation by Israel as such.
This condition for holding bodies was explicitly made in an Israeli Security Cabinet's decision of January 2017 regarding a "uniform policy for the treatment of terrorist bodies".
After the first hearing on the petition, the Supreme Court issued an order nisi on 22 July 2020, instructing the respondents to explain why they would not hand over Erekat’s body to his family as soon as possible.
In September 2020, the state informed the Court that there was a change in policy and that Palestinian bodies would be held "unrelated to organizational affiliation."
Following this announcement, Adalah filed an amended petition arguing that the new policy was unconstitutional and contradicted the 2004 position of the Attorney General and prior rulings of the Supreme Court. Adalah further contended that the new policy should not apply to Erekat since it was made months after his body was held.
At a hearing held on 8 March 2021, Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher argued that the new policy was not only disproportionate but also violated international human rights and humanitarian law, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
"Withholding the body of a deceased individual from his or her family violates the International Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which Israel is a State Party."
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. The Rome Statute prohibits the "taking of hostages".