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As part of the long struggle to have Palestinians’ remains returned to their families, it now turns out: Israel does not know where it had buried some of the bodies it has pledged to return

From February to April of 2013, HaMoked petition filed ten HCJ petitions to return bodies of Palestinians that had been held by Israel for years to their families. Two previous petitions filed on this issue in 2001 and 2005 were still pending at the time the 2013 petitions were filed.

On May 20, 2013, after the petitions were filed, the State announced that the Minister of Defense had instructed the security establishment to take the necessary action to promptly transfer all Palestinian bodies held by Israel to the Palestinian Authority. In the months that followed, 13 of the bodies mentioned in HaMoked’s petitions were forensically identified and returned to the families between January and May 2014. HaMoked was told that the three remaining bodies “had not yet been located”.

On November 2, 2014, the State filed a further updating notice to the Court in which it stated that “all possibilities for locating [the three missing bodies] had been exhausted, and there is therefore no practical possibility of returning them to the families”. The State noted that in the attempt to locate two of the bodies, military officials had exhumed bodies from several specific graves in a cemetery in the country’s south, where, the bodies were said to be located. However, none of the exhumed bodies genetically matched the relatives. It was further noted that the third body had been buried by a private burial company, apparently in a different cemetery in the south, but there were no records of its exact burial site, and therefore it could not be located.

In a response dated November 20, 2014, HaMoked complained of the disrespect and negligence exhibited by the state with respect to the identification and burial of Palestinian bodies it holds, and stressed, that even if bodies are buried in civilian cemeteries by private entities, the overall responsibility for the burial still rests with the military. HaMoked added that this was not the first case in which Israel “lost” the remains of Palestinians. In the past, following HaMoked’s advocacy, the chief-of-staff at the time appointed a special commission of inquiry into the identification and burial of enemy dead. The committee listed the deficiencies it found in how the remains are processed, but it seems that the security establishment ignored the findings.

Given the outrageous conduct in this case, and given the precedents, HaMoked objected to withdrawing the petitions and requested a hearing be scheduled for reviewing fundamental issues relating to how Palestinian bodies held by Israel are treated.

Further reading:
Captive Corpses, a report by HaMoked and B'Tselem (02) 627 1698   (02) 627 6317

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