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Palestinians demand Israeli authorities release the remains of slain loved ones

Israel/Palestine
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A peaceful march broke out into clashes on Sunday, after Palestinians gathered in the occupied southern West Bank city of Bethlehem to demand Israeli authorities release the remains of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces to their families for burial.

The Israeli government is refusing to release the bodies of eight Palestinians killed in the last 16 months of upheaval during attempted, alleged, or actual attacks. While 28 bodies had originally been held, the Israeli government has released the remains of the other 20.

The remaining eight are being held on the grounds that the Palestinians were allegedly affiliated with the Hamas movement at the time of their death, a point contested by many family members.

“Holding the bodies of Palestinian martyrs is a cruel and inhumane crime” (Photo: Sheren Khalel/Mondoweiss)

Mohammed Elayyan, the father of Bahaa Elayyan, a Palestinian who was shot dead by Israeli forces in October 2015, told Mondoweiss that while his son’s remains had been released to his family after being held for a year, he continues to come to every action held for other families demanding their loved ones’ remains.

“Today I am here hoping to help the other families who are missing their children’s remains,” Mohammed said. “We are here today to send a message to the whole world that what Israel is doing is a violation of human rights.”

An elderly woman takes her turn leading the chants (Photo: Sheren Khalel/Mondoweiss)

Elayyan was shot dead after he and another Palestinian attacked an Israeli bus with a gun and knife, killing three before both Palestinians were shot dead.

At least 247 Palestinians have been shot dead since October 2015, according to documentation by Ma’an News Agency. During the same period, at least 34 Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks.

By the time protesters got ready to march, more than 200 Palestinians had joined in on the demonstration (Photo: Sheren Khalel/Mondoweiss)

During Sunday’s protest, more than 200 Palestinians gathered on the main stretch of road in Bethlehem, cut off by the Israeli separation wall.

Community leaders, as well as loved-ones of the eight dead still being held by Israeli forces gave speeches along the main road, before protesters gathered to march toward the wall.

Samir al-Khadour gives a speech at the start of the protest (Photo: Sheren Khalel/Mondoweiss)

Samir al-Khadour, the husband of slain Majd al-Khadour, who was shot dead after she allegedly rammed her car into another vehicle, lightly injuring two Israelis in June, was also at the protest.

Al-Khadour told Mondoweiss Sunday’s protest helped him stay hopeful that he will one day be able to hold a proper funeral for his wife.

“We are in contact with all the Palestinians in the West Bank, from Hebron to Nablus,” he said. “Anywhere there is an action about the martyrs, I feel like there is so much solidarity among us. To see all these people here gives me hope that I will get my wife’s body back one day, because every Palestinian is demanding Israel release the remains of all our martyrs.”

Protestors marching toward Israel’s separation wall (Photo: Sheren Khalel/Mondoweiss)

The protest was planned by around 30 community organizers, including Azhar Abu Sahrour, the mother of Abdelhamid Abu Sahour, a 19-year-old student from Aida refugee camp who died while bombing an Israeli bus, which left 21 people injured in April.

Azhar Abu Sahrour, the mother of Abdelhamid Abu Sahrour (Photo: Sheren Khalel/Mondoweiss)

While some of the organizers wanted to have the protest deeper into the city, away from the Israeli wall, and in-turn, the Israeli military, Azhar and several other organizers insisted the protest be held in an area near the wall, where Israelis could be confronted, since the message of demanding the bodies be returned was a message for Israeli authorities.

“Israel says it will not return my son’s body because he is accused of being with the Hamas movement,” Abu Sahrour said during the organizational meeting. “But that will never matter to us, as Palestinians we do not make a difference between Fatah or Hamas or any other party or people. We are all here to work together to get all the bodies of all the Palestinians killed by Israel.”

“To Paris Conference: The bodies of our martyrs must be returned” (Photo: Sheren Khalel/Mondoweiss)

“Israel is trying to find a way to divide the Palestinian population by making a difference between Hamas or Fatah or Ramallah or Hebron because they want us to stop working as a huge team of organized people,” she said. “That is why they are giving back the remains to some families and not to others. But we are all one and we will support each other and stay together and in the end if there is just one Palestinian body left being held we will continue to protest.”

Several community leaders, as well as youth from Bethlehem, chant just outside the Israeli military opening in the wall (Photo: Sheren Khalel/Mondoweiss)

After protesters made it down to the Israeli separation wall, Israeli forces opened the large garage-like gate and several soldiers exited shooting tear gas and scattering protesters.

After Israeli forces shot tear gas at protesters, only youth remained on the streets, who started throwing rocks in retaliation. Israeli jeeps then entered Bethlehem through the gate, speeding through the street and shooting tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets and sound grenades, after which the protest subsided.

Youth taking cover, ready to hurl stones at armed Israeli soldiers (Photo: Sheren Khalel/Mondoweiss)

In addition to the eight bodies being held by Israeli forces from the last 16 months of upheaval, it is estimated that Israel is withholding more than 262 more Palestinian bodies, according to Palestinian official numbers, however Israel has stated only 119 remains of Palestinians are being withheld.

Sheren Khalel
About Sheren Khalel

Sheren Khalel is a freelance multimedia journalist who works out of Israel, Palestine and Jordan. She focuses on human rights, women's issues and the Palestine/Israel conflict. Khalel formerly worked for Ma'an News Agency in Bethlehem, and is currently based in Ramallah and Jerusalem. You can follow her on Twitter at @Sherenk.

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20 Responses

  1. jon s
    jon s
    January 18, 2017, 4:46 pm

    Holding on to bodies is both morally wrong and counter-productive. They should all be returned to their families unconditionally. And that principle also applies in regard to the remains of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, fallen IDF soldiers, being held by the Hamas terrorists.

  2. Jim Holstun
    Jim Holstun
    January 18, 2017, 5:00 pm

    In Sophocles’ great play, Antigone, the Theban tyrant Creon not only slays Polyneices, the son of Oedipus, but refuses to allow his body to be buried. Instead, he leaves it in the open, to be eaten and defiled by dogs and birds. Polyneices’ sister Antigone goes against his orders and performs the burial rites for her brother.

    Things don’t turn out well for Creon.

    Things won’t turn out well for the Creon state, either.

  3. GodWPalestine
    GodWPalestine
    January 18, 2017, 5:36 pm

    Why hold bodies? They’re dead anyway, unless their (Israel) war criminals prove they can get something out of dead Palestinians as well, or maybe frame them for Israel’s bad luck and lack of support from the UN??
    I wonder how they treat the bodies, or any belongings as I watched the video of the moment the 17 year old – Qusai was killed, possibly he still had some breath but they brutally dragged him while possibly alive and hit his head all over the floor then tore his clothes off him and shoved him in the back of a military jeep as if he was only a mannequin! Can you imagine how the dead ones get treated?

    • annie
      annie
      January 18, 2017, 5:42 pm

      brutally dragged him while possibly alive

      he was alive, you could ell by his body’s movements when they first started dragging him. he kicked, dead bodies don’t kick.

  4. Jon66
    Jon66
    January 18, 2017, 10:11 pm

    Israel is differentiating between Hamas and Fatah because Hamas refuses to release the bodies of Israelis that it has.

    All parties should immediately return the bodies of ALL the dead. No one should be holding bodies.

    • annie
      annie
      January 18, 2017, 11:53 pm

      All parties should immediately return the bodies of ALL

      let me guess, you’re going to make an exception for the live bodies israel holds tho, aren’t you jon. alive is way more valuable than dead.

      Israel is differentiating between Hamas and Fatah because Hamas refuses to release the bodies

      hamas making deals with israel is stupid because israel breaks their agreements after they get what they want. like after the shalit deal, they came, invaded and kidnapped all of those hamas people back again. lying the whole time pretending they were looking for teens they already knew they were dead. that was their priority, rearresting those released in the prisoner exchange to satiate the political demands of netanyahu’s critics, not finding the teens. they turned all of the west bank upside down finding and abducting the previously released prisoners. besides, israel gives back dead bodies and just executes more and more all over again.

      you should be ashamed to represent such a state, deal breakers.

      • Jon66
        Jon66
        January 19, 2017, 6:37 am

        Annie,
        The article describes the Israeli practice of holding the remains of deceased Hamas members. It is deficient in that it does not describe the fact that it is the practice of Hamas to hold the remains of Israelis.

        As I have said now and before, I think the concept of holding the remains and not allowing families to bury their dead is wrong. However, Israel is not unique in the region in doing so. Syria, Jordan, Egypt an s the Palestinians have all withheld the return of remains.
        If these poor families wish the return of their deceased, they should push to have both sides agree to the principle. If it is a “human rights” violation for Israel to do it, than it is also a violation for Hamas.

        I would like to see the practice ended by both sides. Don’t you agree?

      • eljay
        eljay
        January 19, 2017, 9:31 am

        || Jon66: … As I have said now and before, I think the concept of holding the remains and not allowing families to bury their dead is wrong. However, Israel is not unique in the region in doing so. Syria, Jordan, Egypt an s the Palestinians have all withheld the return of remains. … I would like to see the practice ended by both sides. Don’t you agree? ||

        Zionists promote Israel as a “moral beacon” and “light unto the nations” state…and Zionists defend Israel’s unjust and immoral actions by comparing it to bottom-of-the-morality-barrel nations/groups. It never fails.

        I agree that no country should withhold the remains of foreign citizens from their families. (I also agree that no country should be an oppressive, colonialist, (war) criminal and/or supremacist state.) I don’t see why the “moral beacon” nation shouldn’t lead by example.

      • oldgeezer
        oldgeezer
        January 19, 2017, 11:53 am

        @jon66

        Despite trying to attain the high ground you end up occupying the space reserved for an apologist for rights abuses.

        Well done jon.

      • jon s
        jon s
        January 19, 2017, 3:59 pm

        Annie, Jon66 wrote a very clear formulation: “All parties should immediately return the bodies of ALL the dead “. Do you agree?

      • Jon66
        Jon66
        January 19, 2017, 5:01 pm

        OG,
        The high moral ground is the return of the bodies by both sides. I don’t think either side has grabbed it in this case. But if the protesters really consider the withholding of human remains to be a human rights issue, than they should demand it’s consistent application. Don’t you agree?

        Eljay,
        The conversation began because there was a Palestinian protest against Israel holding the bodies of deceased ‘Hamas’ persons. The protesters position is that Israel is wrong to hold theses bodies. I agree. However, don’t you think the morally consistent position is for the protesters to demand the same from Hamas, an organization that they have some sway over?shouldnt they be protesting against the practice in any circumstance?

      • annie
        annie
        January 19, 2017, 6:03 pm

        don’t you think the morally consistent position is for the protesters to demand the same from Hamas

        because protestors, to morally protest, should be required to be morally consistent and required to protest for both sides?

        and to answer your question (again), i doubt any of protestors in gaza do not have friends and relatives rotting away in israeli jails. given that, unlike israelis, they use bodies to free their relatives, it’s not a consistent moral requirement. maybe if israel released all the 100’s of prisoners they agreed, under a deal, to release and then re-imprisoned in june 2014, it would begin to approach some sort of moral equanimity. but i doubt it. under the circumstances no, i don’t believe to be morally consistent protesters in gaza should be required to demand anything of hamas.

      • eljay
        eljay
        January 19, 2017, 8:58 pm

        || Jon66: … Eljay,
        The conversation began because there was a Palestinian protest against Israel holding the bodies of deceased ‘Hamas’ persons. The protesters position is that Israel is wrong to hold theses bodies. I agree. … ||

        So do I.

        || … However, don’t you think the morally consistent position is for the protesters to demand the same from Hamas, an organization that they have some sway over?shouldnt they be protesting against the practice in any circumstance? ||

        I don’t think it’s morally inconsistent not to protest all similar injustices at the same time, but I do think it would be morally inconsistent – and just plain hypocritical – for any of those protesters to defend Hamas’ withholding of the bodies of Israeli citizens.

      • Jon66
        Jon66
        January 19, 2017, 9:21 pm

        Annie,

        I don’t think the protesters need to protest both sides. But if they think that using this tactic is legitimate for their countrymen, but not for the Israelis than I don’t think they have too much to complain about.

      • annie
        annie
        January 19, 2017, 11:40 pm

        you’d have to ask them jon, i have no idea.

        and when you say I don’t think the protesters need to protest both sides

        it doesn’t seem consistent with what you wrote before. in what way do you think the protestors should “demand from hamas”? i letter writing campaign? for moral consistency? there is no moral consistency between the oppressed, occupied and bombed, by a client of the global superpower, who imprisons 1000’s and kills children and ordinary people for decades vs a people who have been robbed blind. no moral consistency at all.

        we can talk about moral consistency after hamas mows the grass in israel and palestinians pull up folding lawn chairs and couches to watch the slaughter while chomping snacks on a saturday night. then get back to me about moral consistency.

    • Talkback
      Talkback
      January 20, 2017, 4:12 am

      Jon66: “Israel is differentiating between Hamas and Fatah because Hamas refuses to release the bodies of Israelis that it has.”

      That’s not the whole story, Jon66. Hamas refuses to release bodies AND prisoners, because the Jewish terrorist organisation “Israel” wants to release bodies, BUT refuses to release prisoners who have no connection to the extermination operation called ‘Protective Edge’ according to Lotan, the Premier terrorist office coordinator for POWs and MIAs .

  5. jon s
    jon s
    January 23, 2017, 4:23 pm

    Annie,
    You can’t seem to bring yourself to agree to the simple formulation that all sides should release all bodies.
    The dead should not be held as bargaining chips. They should be returned to their families, no bargaining, no conditions , no deals.

    • annie
      annie
      January 23, 2017, 4:59 pm

      until such time as all palestinians have equal rights i don’t think it’s appropriate for the occupation regime to be imprisoning palestinians. no, i do not. i do think all sides should release all bodies, prioritizing of course, the live ones. someday, at such a as time a palestinian authority has a legal right to judge setters in their courts and imprison them in their jails, perhaps some arrangement could be made for israel do the same. but until some equitable solution can be made, all sides should release all live and dead bodies to their families.

      You can’t seem to bring yourself to agree to the simple formulation that live bodies matter. israel is holding over 350 children in their jails. israel is holding palestinian’s prisoner with no charges who have committed no crime. israel has a 99.7 conviction rate in their military court system. how would you like to be ruled under a system with a 99.7 conviction rate applied to your particular ethnicity, just for the jews?

      You can’t seem to bring yourself to agree to the simple formulation that this is wrong and that those people should be released to their families.

    • eljay
      eljay
      January 23, 2017, 5:24 pm

      || jon s: … You can’t seem to bring yourself to agree to the simple formulation that all sides should release all bodies. ||

      You can’t seem to bring yourself to agree to the simple formulation that all sides should:
      – respect and uphold international laws and human rights and obligations thereunder;
      – be held accountable for past and on-going (war) crimes;
      – exists as secular and democratic states of and for their respective citizens, immigrants, expats and refugees, equally, and not as supremacist states of any kind.

    • echinococcus
      echinococcus
      January 24, 2017, 11:28 am

      John S,

      Are you still beating that dead donkey? Worse than John 66.
      There is no equality of the sides. Period. One is illegal, illegitimate, and a major criminal against humanity. There is no “all sides”.

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