High Court delays returning terrorists’ bodies until new hearing

Chief justice rules case on holding corpses of attackers as bargaining chips without law can be heard by expanded bench in June

Relatives mourn over the body of Hamzeh Yousef Zamaareh, during his funeral in the West Bank city of Halhul, on February 17, 2018. (AFP Photo/Hazem Bader)
Relatives mourn over the body of Hamzeh Yousef Zamaareh, during his funeral in the West Bank city of Halhul, on February 17, 2018. (AFP Photo/Hazem Bader)

The High Court on Monday agreed to the state’s request to hold an additional hearing on Israel’s holding of bodies of Palestinian terrorists with an expanded court bench, delaying the scheduled repatriation of the bodies to their families.

In December, the High Court of Justice ruled that Israel could no longer hold Palestinian terrorists’ bodies as bargaining chips, without legislation regulating the practice. It gave the government six months to pass such a law.

Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut ruled that the state could delay the return of terrorists’ bodies until a new ruling is reached. The court also agreed to expand the bench for the new hearing from three judges to seven.

Hayut said the fresh High Court hearing will be held in June.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut at a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on January 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In the court’s 2-1 December decision, the justices wrote: “The State of Israel, as a nation of laws, cannot hold on to corpses for the purposes of negotiations at a time when there is no specific and explicit law that allows it do so.”

It was ruling on a petition by a number of families of Palestinian assailants, whose bodies are currently being held by Israel.

Israeli security forces regularly take custody of terrorists’ bodies, with the intent of using them in negotiations to retrieve the bodies of Israeli soldiers, specifically those of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, whose remains are being held by the Hamas terrorist group in the Gaza Strip.

The justices did not outright forbid Israel from holding the bodies of Palestinian terrorists, only from doing so without a law dictating how it is to be managed.

Mourners carry the body of Nimer Mahmoud Ahmad Jamal during his funeral in the West Bank village of Bayt Surik, on February 17, 2018. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)

Following the ruling, several politicians criticized the court and called for work to begin immediately on such legislation. The Knesset gave preliminary approval in late January to a bill allowing Israel to hold the bodies of terrorists, on the grounds that their funerals may be used to encourage further attacks.

Over the weekend, the Israeli military returned the bodies of two West Bank terrorists for burial.

One of the bodies was that of Nimer Mahmoud Ahmad Jamal, a 37-year-old from Bayt Surik, who shot dead three Israelis in nearby Har Adar in September.

Border Police officer, Solomon Gavriyah, 20, and two private security guards — Youssef Ottman, 25, of the nearby Arab Israeli town of Abu Ghosh, and Or Arish, 25, of Har Adar — were killed in the attack. The settlement’s security coordinator, Amit Steinhart, was wounded.

Jamal was shot dead by security forces at the scene.

From left to right: Solomon Gavriyah, Youssef Ottman and Or Arish, three Israelis killed in a terror attack outside the settlement of Har Adar on September 26, 2017 (Courtesy)

The other body was that of Hamzeh Yousef Zamaareh, 19, who stabbed a civilian security guard in the hand on February 7, in a guard post at the entrance to the Karmei Tzur settlement in the Etzion bloc. Zamaareh was from the nearby city of Halhul.

A second guard shot Zaamareh and killed him, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

The wounded guard, a 34-year-old man, was treated at the scene by Magen David Adom medics and taken to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem while fully conscious.

The IDF did not confirm the return of Jamal or Zaamareh’s bodies.

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