‘RETURN the bodies of slain Palestinians!’ Bethlehem students unions demanded of Israel, adding that ‘withholding bodies is a war crime.’
Three student unions from universities in the southern occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem announced earlier in the week that they would be ‘launching activities’ in support of Palestinian families whose slain relatives’ bodies are being held by Israel.
After shooting them dead, Israel withholds the bodies of Palestinians for in some cases years. This denies the families the extremely basic human right of being able to bury their loved ones. Israel carries out the practice as a form of collective punishment.
Israel withholds the body of any Palestinian they deem to have launched an attack on an Israeli. They also regularly demolish the family homes of Palestinians that are accused of attacks.
In a joint statement released on Sunday, the student unions of Bethlehem University, Palestine Ahliya University, and al-Quds Open University – Bethlehem, slammed the Israeli government for holding the bodies of slain Palestinian alleged attackers ‘to punish their families and silence their voices.’
The Israeli government’s policy, the statement added, was a ‘type of war crime that the Israeli occupation adds to its criminal records.’ The statement was released after representatives of the unions and representatives of the Fatah youth movement met with families whose children’s bodies are being held by Israel.
Israeli authorities dramatically escalated a policy of withholding Palestinian bodies killed by Israeli forces following the emergence of a wave of unrest across the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel in October 2015, having repeatedly claimed that funerals of Palestinians had provided grounds for ‘incitement’ against the Israeli state.
However, following an uproar of protest among Palestinians over the policy, Israeli authorities began scaling down the practice, although a number of bodies still remain withheld. When Israeli authorities have decided to return slain bodies and allow funerals in the occupied Palestinian territory, the ceremonies have been typically restricted by a long list of conditions imposed by Israeli authorities, including limiting the number of attendees and the deployment of Israeli soldiers throughout the event.
Palestinian families have also been forced to pay large financial deposits to the Israeli government as a collateral for potential ‘incitement’ during the funerals and to ensure that families abide by Israeli-imposed conditions. Israeli police announced in June that slain Palestinians from occupied East Jerusalem suspected of ‘terrorism’ would no longer be able to have funerals in their neighbourhoods or villages, but would instead be buried in cemeteries chosen by the Israeli police.
A joint statement released by Addameer and Israeli minority rights group Adalah in March condemned Israel’s practice of withholding bodies as ‘a severe violation of international humanitarian law as well as international human rights law, including violations of the right to dignity, freedom of religion, and the right to practice culture.’
The statement said it appeared ‘many’ of the Palestinians whose bodies Israel was holding had been ‘extrajudicially executed by Israeli forces during alleged attacks against Israelis, despite posing no danger.’ All three of the universities which produced the statement condemning Israel’s withholding of Palestinian bodies, provide outstanding education to students despite the Israeli occupation.
Al-Quds University’s main campus is in Jerusalem. Al-Quds Bard (AQB) College for Arts and Sciences for instance organised a science day at Al-Quds University under the supervision of Amal Jaber, the Lab Coordinator at the college.
AQB students, staff, and faculty participated in scientific activities alongside students from Al-Quds University. The scientific day included a number of interactive experiments that illustrated the various ways science can be found in our everyday lives.
Students demonstrated their scientific ideas in a creative and fun way in order to convey the science behind their experiments. Amal Jaber pointed out that this activity comes as part of the college’s efforts to make extracurricular activities part of the educational process at the college.
Such activities encourage students to start their own initiatives in different fields of science and help these initiatives succeed. Jaber indicated that Al-Quds Bard offers an educational atmosphere and possibilities that help generate creativity aimed at expanding horizons and perceptions of students and stimulate critical thinking of information to encourage free scientific inquiry.
This vision follows the college’s innovative method of teaching. Many of the attendees were impressed by the students and their enthusiastic questions about the experiments. However the Al-Quds University like all Palestinian institutions is constantly under attack by the Israeli forces.
Israeli occupation forces backed by several Jeeps and dozens of heavily armed troops broke into Al-Quds University presidency building in its main campus in Abu Dies on Saturday 19 November. The Israeli forces held the university security guards in a room and prevented them from leaving or communicating with anyone. They raided the classrooms and ransacked the building.
The University strongly condemns the breaking into a student scientific exhibition which was held in the presidency building and the confiscation of its content. Prof. Hassan Dweik, vice president for communication, condemned the continuous Israeli assaults on the university’s campus. He added that these forces totally ignore international laws and conventions which consider universities to be a place for freedom of speech and intellectuality and thus protect them and their sanctity against any assaults.
Prof. Dweik stressed that the student scientific exhibition only included books about literature, culture and arts besides other items concerning Palestinian culture and heritage. In this context, it is important to stress the fact that this exhibition is organised by students annually.
Prof. Dweik called upon International Arab and Islamic organisations to intervene to stop the brutality of the Israeli occupation and its unjustified recurrent assaults on the university, its students and property. Prof. Dweik added that the only reason for these assaults is the violation of the sanctity of a university campus for the Palestinians in Occupied Jerusalem. The university asserts that it will practice its legal right to pursue and expose the practices of the Israeli occupation which directly threatens its academic march.
• British Minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, on Tuesday expressed the UK government’s concern over Israeli plans to build 500 new units in Ramat Shlomo settlement in East Jerusalem, according to a statement by the Foreign Office.
‘We are deeply concerned by reports that the Jerusalem Municipality has revived a plan for constructing 500 new units in the illegal settlement of Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem,’ said Ellwood.
‘The planned expansion of Ramat Shlomo includes construction on privately owned Palestinian land and further cuts off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.’ The British official said: ‘It is disappointing that Israel has proceeded with this plan despite serious international criticism when these plans were announced in 2014. Israel’s policy of continuing to expand settlements is illegal under international law and systematically undermines the prospects for a two-state solution.’
Meanwhile Former US president Jimmy Carter, has called on outgoing President Barack Obama to recognise the State of Palestine before he leaves office in January. Of the UN’s 193 members, 136 – more than 70 per cent – recognise the State of Palestine and the Palestinian push for an independent state.
But the US, Israel and dozens of other nations do not, with many arguing that the recognition of a Palestinian entity can only come about through direct talks and agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The current US government supports a two-state solution but Israeli ministers have suggested that the election of Donald Trump as the next president has dealt a huge blow to hopes of a Palestinian state.
On the campaign trail, Trump pledged to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and called for continued Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Former US president Jimmy Carter delivers a lecture on the eradication of the Guinea worm, at the House of Lords on February 3 in London. Carter has called for Barack Obama to recognise the State of Palestine.
Carter has now stepped into the debate with an article for the New York Times on Monday. ‘It has been President Obama’s aim to support a negotiated end to the conflict based on two states, living side by side in peace. That prospect is now in grave doubt,’ he wrote.
‘I am convinced that the United States can still shape the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before a change in presidents, but time is very short. The simple but vital step this administration must take before its term expires on Jan. 20 is to grant American diplomatic recognition to the state of Palestine, as 137 countries have already done, and help it achieve full United Nations membership.’
Carter added that US recognition of Palestinian hopes for a sovereign state, combined with a UN Security Council resolution ‘grounded in international law,’ and UN membership for the Palestinians would assist future diplomatic efforts to seal a lasting peace agreement.
The former president, who published a book on the conflict entitled Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, in 2006, warned that the prospect of peace is slowly slipping away from the Israelis and the Palestinians. He said that Israeli moves in the West Bank, past the armistice lines marked before its capture of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War, are bringing both sides ever closer to a ‘one-state reality’ where Israel would preside over more than four million Palestinians living in the two territories, as well as the Gaza Strip.
‘Israel is building more and more settlements, displacing Palestinians and entrenching its occupation of Palestinian lands,’ Carter writes in the New York Times. Over 4.5 million Palestinians live in these occupied territories, but are not citizens of Israel. Most live largely under Israeli military rule, and do not vote in Israel’s national elections.’
He continued: ‘Meanwhile, about 600,000 Israeli settlers in Palestine enjoy the benefits of Israeli citizenship and laws. This process is hastening a one-state reality that could destroy Israeli democracy and will result in intensifying international condemnation of Israel.’