JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- “We are hopeful,” Muhammad Elayyan said, as a few dozen Palestinians trickled into the quiet halls of Israel’s Supreme Court in Jerusalem on Monday. “These days, we have to see the glass as half full. We must stay hopeful.”
Elayyan is the father of one of seven slain Palestinians whose bodies are currently locked inside refrigerators in Israel’s mortuary in Jaffa, withheld from their grieving families since they were killed by Israeli forces after carrying out or allegedly carrying out attacks on Israelis.
Family members of the slain Palestinians and their supporters crowded into the Israeli courtroom, eagerly awaiting a decision on whether the bodies of their loved ones would be released to them, after months of appeals to the courts.
Courtroom guards periodically scolded attendees to quiet down during the hearing, as Hebrew-speaking Palestinians tried to quickly translate for those who couldn’t understand, while one man bowed his head in anxious anticipation and quietly recited Islamic prayers.
After a few minutes of private deliberation, the Supreme Court judges announced their decision to once again delay the release of the bodies until a government legal adviser was consulted, whose proposed resolution to the case is expected to be submitted to the courts by July 11, when a final decision could be made.
“The waiting is the worst part,” Elayyan, whose slain son Bahaa Elayyan
has been held by Israel for more than eight months, told Ma’an outside the courtroom after the decision was announced, as his visibly disappointed wife stood by his side. “It is important for us to bury our loved ones so that we can say goodbye, and then move on with our lives.”
“Israel has made it so we are frozen in the stage of mourning. We have been mourning since October when our son was killed,” Elayyan said. “And we will continue to mourn until his body is finally returned to us and we can properly say goodbye.”
Israeli authorities dramatically escalated their policy of withholding slain Palestinian bodies
since a wave of unrest swept across the Palestinian territory and Israel in October, so far leaving more than 220 Palestinians and some 32 Israelis killed.
The United Nations released a report in May
stating that Israeli authorities have prohibited autopsies from being conducted on Palestinian corpses, and that the bodies were kept in poor and inhumane conditions, “stacked on top of each other.”
“The bodies returned to the families are often disfigured, sometimes beyond recognition, denying the families the right to accord, with dignity, final religious rites,” the report read.
Human rights organizations have also widely condemned the policy, with prisoners’ rights group Addameer calling it a form of “collective punishment” against Palestinians who had not been accused of any wrongdoing, also noting that it “adds to the severe grief and trauma of families of the deceased.”
Following the backlash and an appeal submitted on behalf of the families by Muhammad Mahmoud, an Addameer lawyer, the Israeli Supreme Court in May ordered the release
of nine Palestinian bodies, including 22-year-old Bahaa Elayyan.
The mother of Bahaa Elayyan, center, waits outside a courtroom on July 4, 2016. (MaanImages/Jaclynn Ashly)
The ruling recommended that the bodies be returned by June 6, the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
However, Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan ordered that Israeli police suspend the return of the bodies
just a few weeks after the ruling, claiming that the funeral of Alaa Abu Jamal had encouraged “incitement” against the Israeli state.
Seven months after 22-year-old Abu Jamal was killed by Israeli forces after carrying out an attack on Israeli civilians in October, his funeral was held in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabal al-Mukabbir.
Like other Palestinian families, Abu Jamal’s family were forced to abide by Israeli-imposed preconditions to hold the ceremony, including having to pay the Israeli state more than $10,000 as collateral against potential “incitement” and limiting the number of attendees to 50 people -- conditions which Erdan said were violated during the funeral.
Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers were heavily deployed throughout the procession.
Funeral attendees had chanted “God is great,” a phrase used regularly during Muslim funerals, as well as “with our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you, martyr,” a variation on a popular Arabic political slogan.
Erdan called the scene "inadmissible by all standards and measurements everywhere, the more so in the capital Jerusalem," in reference to the contested status of the holy city as the exclusive capital of the Jewish state of Israel, which is not recognized by the international community.
His decision effectively halted the implementation of the Supreme Court ruling, forcing the bereaved families, who had expected a long-awaited reprieve from their mourning, back into the Israeli courts.
The judges at Monday’s hearing ruled against the prosecutor's reasoning to halt the return of bodies due to “incitement” during Abu Jamal’s funeral, and also rejected the prosecutor's attempts to link a recent escalation of attacks
to the release of Palestinian corpses.
Mahmoud, the Addameer lawyer, had attended Abu Jamal’s funeral, and underscored to the Israeli judges during the hearing that the conditions were in fact not violated during the funeral.
“We continue to accept all of the conditions set by Israel, and no one violated them or has plans to violate them in the future,” Mahmoud said to the court.
Mahmoud also announced that the families had accepted a new condition set by Israeli police
in June that would prohibit Palestinians from holding funerals for the released bodies in their neighborhoods or villages, as the bodies would instead be buried in cemeteries chosen by the Israeli police.
The families’ main demand remains that exact dates be determined for the release of each body, while Israeli police are pushing the courts to allow them to exercise complete control over the timing based on Israel’s changing security assessments.
The prosecutor also reiterated a proposal
made on Saturday night by Israeli leaders to build a special cemetery in Israel for Palestinians killed by Israeli forces to avoid returning the slain bodies to their families. The proposal was promptly rejected by the Supreme Court judges.
The proposal referred to what Palestinians have termed “cemeteries of numbers,” where Palestinians slain by Israeli forces have been buried. The cemeteries, where the remains of 262 Palestinians are believed to be held
, were built in undisclosed locations in Israel, with only numbers marking each grave. However, the policy was reversed in 2004.
After Monday’s court hearing, member of Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, Osama Saadi, said “We are demanding a simple humanitarian solution to this case, which is for the Israeli government to give back the corpses to their families so they can be buried in cemeteries.”
Saadi added that he was confident that the courts would order the release of the bodies in line with the ruling in May.
“We will continue to organize and resist
,” Elayyan told Ma’an on his way out of the courthouse. “When they return our children’s bodies, then we will move to punish those who did this to us. We will submit a complaint to the international courts.”