A recent headline in Haaretz claimed the Israeli government withholding of Said Abu Jamal and Uday Abu Jamal’s corpses, they are the two Palestinians cousins responsible for carrying out the synagogue attack in Jerusalem last Monday, was an “unprecedented move“. How odd, for there’s nothing unprecedented in the least about Israel refusing to release the bodies of deceased Palestinian militants to their families for burial. How short are our memories? It was only two years ago Israel ceremoniously returned 91 Palestinian bodies back to their families as a bargaining chip to grease Abbas into yet another round of futile “framework” negotiations.
At the time Israeli spokesperson Mark Regev said the gesture was intended as a confidence-building measure “Israel is ready for the immediate resumption of peace talks without any preconditions whatsoever.”
Rrright. We all know how well that worked out. So, what’s the unprecedented move?
The state won’t release to their families for burial the bodies of the two cousins who carried out the attack on a Jerusalem synagogue…..This is apparently the first time that Israel has withheld the bodies of terrorists as a deterrent measure….
“This won’t deter [anyone], it will only cause more tension and more people will do terrible things,” said the family’s lawyer, Muhammad Mahmoud.
This is demented. It’s the very same policy they had before they just slap a new rational on it and claim it’s as a deterrence. Palestinians know very well Israel interns the bodies of militants for decades if it suits their purpose. And where’s the evidence it deters anyone?
Israel will likely use the corpses of Palestinian martyrs as a bargaining chip at some later date. How morbid and cynical. Although Israel is not alone in using fighter’s remains as a bargaining chip, Hamas is currently holding the remains of two Israeli soldiers for this purpose, Israel may be alone in using the dead to actively try to punish the living. Amira Hass, in writing about the reaction to the synagogue killings in Behind the silent reaction of the Palestinian street, make the point the assailants knew what the consequences would be for their families.
In recent weeks, government officials have called for intensifying the collective punishment of Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents to deter potential attackers. But these official, public threats did nothing to deter Uday and Ghassan Abu Jamal. They planned their murderous operation despite knowing their families would suffer one way or another: violent raids on their houses, arrests, humiliation, having their houses sealed or destroyed. They surely knew that if they weren’t killed, they’d be arrested, perhaps tortured during interrogation and sentenced to life. But none of this deterred them.
I’m sure Israel knows this too.
Last year we ran the report Graveyard of numbers by Palestinian-American Nadya Raja Tannous where she recounts her travel guide’s explanation of a martyrs poster on a wall in Nablus. Reading it again now I’m reminded how nothing has changed. Everything stays the same and the seed of violence is propagated for a new season. In the following excerpt the guide explained a man who died nearly 40 years ago, his corpse carried out the sentencing imposed by the court ruling after his death:
If a Palestinian from the West Bank is considered to be guilty of a crime by the State of Israel upon their death, the Israeli military can collect that person’s remains and place the individual in a trial post-mortem. After the trial process, a sentence is assigned and the body is taken to a storage facility inside of Israel and held in detention until the sentence is fulfilled.
This man looking down at us was named Hafith Muhammad Wahid Abu Zanat and his corpse was condemned to 20 years in prison. During this time, his family’s rights to burial and/or viewing of his remains were revoked until the 20 year jail period was carried out to term. In 1996, Hafith was returned to his family in Nablus, marking the first time that they were actually able to see him and mourn over his remains since the day that he was shot and his body was initially removed by the military.
Our guide told us that he was present when the Abu Zanat family received their son. His old father stooped over the casket and opened the lid only to find, of course, his son’s bare bones, his recognition long gone with the process of time. Additionally, there was no assurance that these remains even belonged to Hafith.
This is not the kind of homecoming that I would wish on anyone. I see this policy as a way to intentionally prolong familial and community mourning in order to cultivate greater desperation, hopelessness and defeat in other aspects of Palestinian life. For, as long as the remains have not been returned to their family for burial and ceremony, it is essentially as though that person is still alive, still incarcerated, with no control of their life even in death.
Furthermore, the “jail” holding facility purposefully does not catalog the remains that they process by name. It instead estranges the individuals from their identity by assigning them numbers after the court process and immediately stripping them of their name both on paper and in references for the future return to their families, hence the colloquialism the “Graveyard of Numbers”. Thus, when the body is finally returned to the family, the name of the remains is not released along with them. This often necessitates a very expensive DNA test, paid out of pocket by the family members, in order to check if the bones match up with the identity of their loved ones.
This form of arbitrary bureaucracy is ultimately a method of dehumanization and disenfranchisement that aims to remove martyrs’ families from any sort of cohesive healing process.
Incarceration of Palestinian individuals, both living and dead, contributes to the daily obstruction of general civilian movement and control over their basic livelihoods. Such aims are all part of the same network of demoralizing policies that are implemented by the State of Israel to remind the Palestinian people, Zones A, B, and C, that they are not free and will not soon be free.
Even in death, escape requires permission.