Aug 21 2013

Return of Palestinian Bodies Essential To Peace Process

Published by at 12:58 am under Articles,Palestinian politics


By Daoud Kuttab

Simultaneously with the resumption of peace talks, the Israeli high court has been hearing a petition by families of 15 Palestinians killed years ago, and whose bodies have been kept by the Israelis since.

As the second round of face-to-face peace talks got underway, another emotional issue has arisen. The return of the bodies of Palestinians killed in the decades long conflict with Israel.

At least four cemeteries have recently been exposed as being the “cemeteries of numbers,” where dead Arabs have been buried, rather than having been returned to their families or countries of origin.

It is unclear how many bodies continue to be held by Israel. One of the recently exposed cemeteries has more than 500 plates with numbers. The names of 23 missing Jordanian citizens were published by the weekly newspaper Al-Majd on Aug. 5.A campaign launched in Palestine in the last few years has sought to document the missing individuals. The National Campaign for the Retrieval of Palestinian and Arab War Victims’ Bodies and the Disclosure of the Fate of Those Missing is aimed at raising public awareness of their cases and seeking legal remedy to having their bodies returned to their loved ones.

The Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC) has spearheaded the campaign, and in a paper submitted to the United Nations, JLAC quoted Israeli high court judges, who have taken a strong position against this immoral act of retaining Arab corpses. In a written statement as part of the paper, Judge Aaron Barack, chairman of the Israeli supreme court, expressed the need to respect human dignity:

“Human dignity is not exclusively reserved for living persons. It goes beyond life and applies to the relatives of the dead. Dignity is expressed partially by facilitating a grave with a gravestone, visiting cemeteries on certain occasions and taking care of those graves.”

The Israeli high court, however, has yet to make a ruling on the topic. Each time a strong case has been submitted, the Israeli army prevents a decision by agreeing to the release of the bodies. This appears to be the case this week according to official statements made by the Israeli army to the court in attempts to prevent a ruling on the release of corpses of 15 Palestinians.

An investigative report by France 24 reveals the locations of some of the secret Israeli cemeteries and discusses the legal loopholes that Israel uses to avoid carrying out the humanitarian and respectful act of returning the corpses for proper burial.

Some of the hidden reasons behind the Israeli policy include preventing Palestinians and Arabs from celebrating the “martyrdom” of fighters as well as the attempts to use these bodies as bargaining chips in direct or indirect negotiations, as has happened between Israel and Hezbollah.

According to JLAC research, the total number of documented bodies withheld and missing persons is 442 — the majority of whom are youths ages 18-25. Approximately 63.7% were killed during the second intifada at the beginning of the century, while a smaller number of bodies withheld goes as far back as 1967.

Whenever peace talks commence, the parties to the conflict try to look forward to a future that is better than the past. For Palestinians, and especially for those whose loved ones have never returned and have never been given a proper burial, it is impossible to look forward until they can find closure to the pains of the past. There is no argument that returning the bodies — by court order or voluntary decision — is essential for any progress in the peace talks.

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