Palestinians slam ‘terrorist’ Israel for saying it will withhold bodies

Arab Israeli leader also decries ‘cruel, immoral’ move by defense minister designed as deterrent and possible bargaining chip; Gantz voices support

Palestinian demonstrators protest against US position on Israeli settlements, in the West Bank city of Nablus, November 26, 2019. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)
Palestinian demonstrators protest against US position on Israeli settlements, in the West Bank city of Nablus, November 26, 2019. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

The Palestinian Authority on Wednesday called Israel a “terrorist entity” after an announcement by the office of newly installed Defense Minister Naftali Bennett that he had ordered that all bodies of Palestinian attackers be withheld and not returned to their families as a new deterrent against terrorism. Arab Israeli leaders also decried the decision, while centrist leader Benny Gantz praised it.

Israeli security forces regularly take custody of terrorists’ bodies. Sometimes the bodies are later returned to the assailants’ families for burial. At other times they are withheld — to prevent celebratory funerals in attackers’ hometowns, or with a view to using them in negotiations to retrieve the bodies of Israeli soldiers held by terror groups.

Announcing the proposed change, a statement by the defense minister’s office said bodies will now not be released in all cases, regardless of the organization the assailant was part of, and regardless of the type of attack they committed or attempted to commit.

The step requires approval by the security cabinet.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett at an army base in the Golan Heights overlooking Syrian territory, on November 24, 2019. ( ATEF SAFADI / POOL / AFP)

Hassan Abd Rabbo, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority Prisoners Affairs Commission, told The Times of Israel that Bennett’s decision contravened the Geneva Conventions.

“This decision does not form a deterrent and constitutes collective punishment. It is immoral, contravenes religious rituals regarding burial and aims to cause psychological problems for families. The most basic right of a family is to bury its loved ones.”

Qadri Abu Bakr, the chairman of the Prisoners Affairs Commission, said Bennett’s announcement was “full of hate and extremism.”

“The world needs to take a real and clear stand against this entity, which proves day after day that it is a terrorist entity that acts against Palestine, its land and its people, amid the ongoing international failure to silence and stop its gross violations,” he said, according to Hebrew-language media.

MK Yousef Jabareen attends a committee meeting in the Knesset, December 13, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen said: “Bennett is despicably politicizing a humanitarian issue, and that should be steadfastly opposed. Holding on to bodies and preventing immediate burial are immoral and violate international law. This is what the occupation looks like: Land is stolen, torture is approved, homes are demolished, bodies of Palestinians are withheld and their relatives are collectively punished after they did nothing wrong.”

Arab Israeli rights group Adalah said it “denounces the minister’s announcement and the continuation of Israel’s inhumane and cruel policy on this matter.

“Withholding bodies, whether as bargaining chips or as a method of deterrence or punishment, is contrary to the most basic humanitarian principles.”

However, Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White, welcomed the move and said it was “a step in the right direction.”

“We have civilians held hostage [in Gaza] and also bodies of soldiers. Enemy fighters will receive a dignified burial when it becomes relevant,” he said during a tour of Israel’s northern border.

Mourners chant Islamist slogans while carrying the body of Hamas commander Nour Barakeh, who was killed during an Israeli raid, during his funeral, at his family house in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, November 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

A Defense Ministry source said the move by Bennett could help with the return of Israelis held captive in future swap deal, indicating that the remains may be used as bargaining chips. Army Radio said IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi supported the change.

A diplomatic source said that the policy change was raised by the family of Lt. Hadar Goldin, an IDF soldier whose body is being held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas terrorist group, in their meeting last week with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Gaza-based Hamas terror group is widely believed to be holding the bodies of Goldin and Oron Shaul, another IDF soldier, as well as two Israeli civilians, and talks are reportedly being held regarding a potential swap.

The diplomatic source said the premier subsequently told security chiefs to examine the matter.

Leah Goldin (front left), Zehava Shaul (front right) and other bereaved parents attend a protest memorial ceremony for soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on July 3, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Goldin’s parents, Leah and Simcha, welcomed Bennett’s decision in a statement, but urged him to also halt the release of all live terrorists as well.

“It is inconceivable that while the soldiers are at the hands of Hamas we would continue to release terrorists, dead or alive,” they said. “The release of terrorists is a reward that cannot be handed to Hamas while it holds the soldiers and the civilians.”

But Zehava Shaul, Oron’s mother, said Bennett’s decision “doesn’t matter” to her.

“I want my son back and can’t keep waiting anymore,” she said, alleging that what has been hindering a prisoner swap is Israel’s refusal to release 45 terror convicts rearrested after they were released in 2011 — along with almost 1,000 others — in exchange for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

“Israel isn’t willing to hold its negotiations properly. Hamas want the 45 prisoners released in the Shalit deal who were rearrested. Does Israel’s security really depend on that?” Shaul said.

The High Court of Justice in September ruled that the military has the legal right to hold on to the bodies of slain terrorists for use as leverage in future negotiations with Palestinians.

Bennett’s move Wednesday would make it mandatory to withhold terrorists’ bodies.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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