‘Return bodies of our martyrs’

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Palestinians with photographs of their missing dead demonstrating on the National Day for the Recovery of Martyrs

‘SINCE 1967, Israel has applied an inconsistent policy of refusing to deliver the mortal remains of hundreds of Palestinian combatants to their families,’ an official letter from the Retrieval of the Bodies of Palestinian and Arab War Victims sent to the UN on Thursday stated.

The National Campaign for Retrieval of the Bodies of Palestinian and Arab War Victims wrote the open letter to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calling on him to take action ahead of the National Palestinian Day for the recovery of bodies of Palestinian war victims held by Israel for years and for Israel’s disclosure of the fate of the missing.

‘It is with grave concern that we direct this open letter to you,’ wrote that National Campaign.

The dead were buried in what Israel refers to as ‘cemeteries for enemy combatants,’ in mass clandestine graves located in areas designated as closed military zones and referred to as ‘cemeteries of numbers’, since the deceased are buried there anonymously with numbers etched onto metal placards attached to their corpses or remains.

‘The systematically demeaning and negligent manner in which the remains are buried or dumped, coupled with the lack of proper registration by Israel’s military rabbinate, makes the process of locating and identifying the victims for potential exhumation an uphill task,’ said the letter.

According to figures compiled by the Jerusalem Legal Aid Centre (JLAC), Israel continues to hold the remains of 253 Arab and Palestinian war victims in these cemeteries while also refusing to acknowledge the fate of a further 68 who are missing.

‘Israel’s ongoing refusal to undertake the necessary process to identify those buried in the cemeteries of numbers violates United Nations Security Council Resolution 2474, which requires member states to prevent individuals from going missing as a result of armed conflict in territories under their jurisdiction. Member states are required, inter alia, to produce and provide “proper means of identification, including for members of armed forces, the establishment of national information bureaus upon the outbreak of an armed conflict, grave registration services and registers of deaths and ensuring accountability as appropriate in cases of missing persons”,’ it said.

‘In addition to those languishing in the cemeteries of numbers, Israel has been holding captive the corpses of 51 Palestinians since 2016 under the pretext of using them as bargaining chips in a potential prisoner swap deal with Hamas,’ said the letter.

Seventeen Palestinians of the total 51 whose bodies are held captive were killed in Gaza, three died in Israeli prisons, one is believed to have died under torture or ill-treatment, and one after spending 29 years in detention, while the rest were killed after alleged attacks, with the suspicion that they were killed in extrajudicial execution when other means could have been used to detain them as evidence suggests.

The Campaign added: ‘The requirement of treating the dead with dignity and humanity is a universally recognised value and a norm of customary international law. Codified in Article 16 of the 1907 Hague Convention, this norm is also protected by Article 15 of the First Geneva Convention, Article 18 of the Second Geneva Convention, and Article 16 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is further reiterated in Article 34(1) of Additional Protocol I.

‘Moreover, due to its enormous impact on the families of the deceased, refusing to deliver the corpses for proper and dignified burial may amount to collective punishment prohibited under Article 50 of The Hague Regulations, Article 87 of the Third Geneva Convention, and Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

‘The Israeli practice of preventing families from burying their loved ones with peace and dignity also infringes upon their human rights to dignity, family life, religious freedom, equality, and the prohibition against cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.’

The National Campaign said that in light of these ‘grave violations of international humanitarian law, international human rights law, and the UNSC Resolution,’ it urged Guterres to raise this issue in his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during the upcoming session of the UN General Assembly, to call on Israel to unconditionally revoke the practice of withholding Palestinian corpses as bargaining chips; and demand that Israel respects its obligation to identify the remains of Palestinians held in secret cemeteries and return them to their families.

Meanwhile, Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh met on Thursday with the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, in Ramallah and discussed with him the government’s plans and measures for gradual disengagement from the Israeli occupation.

Shtayyeh informed Mladenov that these plans and measures include the termination of medical referrals to Israeli hospitals and the reinforcement of domestic products.

The prime minister also briefed the UN official on the cluster-based development strategy recently adopted by the government, aimed at creating balanced economic development based on the geographical advantages of each of the Palestinian governorates.

During the meeting, Shtayyeh called upon the European Union to recognise the State of Palestine as a precautionary measure against any future attempts by Israel to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

  • The investigations into the death of Isra Gharib of Beit Sahour, a town adjacent to Bethlehem, are continuing as a team from the Bethlehem Prosecution, the Family Protection from Violence Prosecution and the Cybercrime Prosecution are looking into the case, the Palestinian Public Prosecution office said today.

It said in a statement that there has been significant progress made in the investigation after dozens of witnesses were heard and their testimonies recorded, particularly from those close to the deceased.

Three people are currently held in relation to the case in an effort to find out the truth of what happened during the past months with Gharib and the subsequent injuries she suffered until the announcement of her death, said the statement, noting that the final forensic report has not yet been issued and work is underway to issue it in association with specialists.