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Israel buries Palestinians in 'cemetery of numbers' in defiance of ongoing appeal

Sept. 13, 2017 2:44 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 18, 2017 7:45 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- The Israeli state announced on Wednesday that the bodies of four Palestinians have already been buried in so-called cemeteries of numbers, 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.

“The Israeli government has made a political decision to bury four bodies of slain Palestinians without waiting for the Supreme Court to decide. The expected Supreme Court decision will still include these four bodies, which the Israeli government moved from morgues to the cemeteries of numbers,” lawyer from the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs Muhammad Mahmoud said.

Mahmoud told Ma'an after the Supreme Court hearing on Wednesday that the court ordered to postpone making a decision on the appeal to release the bodies of nine Palestinians who died while allegedly or actually carrying out attacks.

The appeal regarded the remains of Abd al-Hamid Abu Srour, Muhammad Tarayra, Muhammad al-Faqih, Rami Awartani, Misbah Abu Sbeih, Fadi al-Qunbar, Adel Ankoush, Baraa Ibrahim Saleh Taha, and Osama Ahmad Dahdouh -- which have been withheld by Israel for between three and 17 months.

The Israeli prosecution announced during the hearing, attended by Ma’an, that Abd al-Hamid Abu Srour, Muhammad Tarayra, Muhammad al-Faqih, and Rami Awartani have already been buried in the cemeteries -- mass graves comprised of marked and unmarked plots of mostly Palestinians killed by Israeli forces over the past 60 years.

A lawyer from the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center Muhammad Abu Sneina also affirmed to Ma'an 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.

The appeal came after Israel’s Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan requested that bodies be buried in the cemetery of numbers, to be used as a bargaining chip with Hamas to secure the return of Israeli soldiers believed to be held in the Gaza Strip.

However, the court has previously ruled to reject both the request to return the bodies to their families and to bury them in the cemetery of numbers.

Dozens of Palestinians in the southern occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem demonstrated on Tuesday to demand the return of their loved ones’ remains, leading up to the anticipated court hearing.
Azhar Abu Srour (center), whose slain son Abd al-Hamid Abu Srour has been held by Israel for almost a year and a half, urged the public to organize more activities to demand the return of Palestinian bodies to their families.

Head of the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Qaraqe called Israel’s policy of withholding Palestinian bodies “organized crime” committed by Israel at an official level.

He said that the policy was “vengeful,” a form of “collective punishment", and an “ugly violation of all international and human laws."

Palestinian leaders have also expressed their lack of hope in the Israeli Supreme Court to provide justice on the case. 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, 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 has 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."

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