BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) – Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi denounced the Israeli government’s decision this week to bury the bodies of four Palestinians in so-called cemeteries of numbers in Israel.
The Israeli state had announced on Wednesday that it had already buried the bodies of Abd al-Hamid Abu Srour, Muhammad Tarayra, Muhammad al-Faqih, and Rami Awartani, all allegedly affiliated with the Hamas movement, despite an ongoing appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court by which the families of the slain Palestinians have demanded the bodies be released for proper burial.
Ashrawi released a statement Thursday, saying the move was “a blatant disregard for life and the sanctity of death, and is yet another violation of international law and international humanitarian law.” She cited Article 34 of the Additional Protocol to the Fourth Geneva Convention, which say “the remains of persons who have died for reasons related to occupation or in detention resulting from occupation or hostilities and those of persons not nationals of the country in which they have died as a result of hostilities shall be respected, and the gravesites of all such persons shall be respected, maintained and marked.”
Furthermore, Ashrawi noted, the Articles affirm that states are “required to facilitate access to the gravesites by relatives of the deceased,” “to protect and maintain such gravesites permanently,” and “to facilitate the return of the remains of the deceased and of personal effects to the home country upon its request or, unless that country objects, upon the request of the next of kin.”“This is not only inhumane,” Ashrawi said, “it is a deplorable form of collective punishment and cruelty for the families who are mourning the loss of their loved ones. Once again, Israel must be made to comply with the fundamental tenets of decency, civilized behavior and international law.”
A lawyer from the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center Muhammad Abu Sneina told Ma’an on Wednesday that the announcement would not affect the appeal process, and that the center and the prisoners’ committee continue to demand the release of the bodies of the slain Palestinians to their families.
Palestinian leaders, however, have expressed their lack of faith in the Israeli Supreme Court to provide justice on the case. Head of the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Qaraqe denounced the judiciary as “unjust, biased, and nothing more than a tool serving the occupation’s racist and extremist authorities.”
The committee said Israel is withholding 249 slain Palestinian bodies, who have been buried in the cemeteries of numbers over the years.
In addition to Israel’s hope that the bodies can be used as bargaining chips in future negotiations with Hamas, Israeli authorities have also claimed that the policy of withholding remains is an attempt to avoid “incitement” during funerals of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in the occupied territory. When bodies are returned, Israel imposes strict conditions on funerals.
Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer and Israeli minority rights group Adalah have 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.”