As Palestinians across the occupied West Bank took to shops and markets to prepare for this weekend’s Eid al-Adha festivities, the Erekat family of Abu Dis took to the streets to demand the return of their son Ahmed’s body from Israeli custody.
Wednesday marked 37 days since 27-year-old Ahmed Erekat was killed by Israeli forces and his body was subsequently detained.
Israel accused Erekat of carrying out a car-ramming attack against Israeli soldiers stationed at the military “container” checkpoint north of Bethlehem, just a few kilometers away from the Erekat family home in Abu Dis.
But the family maintains that Erekat was in a rush to pick up his sister from the beauty salon in Bethlehem so he could bring her back for her wedding reception that night.
They say he would never commit such an act, let alone on his sister’s wedding day, and that he likely got into a car accident at the checkpoint.
Video surveillance of the incident shows Erekat immediately jumping out of his car and backing away from soldiers with his hands up when he was gunned down.
As part of Israel’s widely-condemned policy of detaining the bodies of Palestinian “attackers” to be used as political bargaining chips, Erekat’s body has been held in a freezer since last month, despite immense pressure from the family and human rights groups to have his body returned for burial.
The family has petitioned the Israeli High Court for his return, but have yet to receive a decision on what will happen.
A dozen of Erekat’s family and friends, including his mother and sisters, staged a protest off a main highway in the West Bank on Tuesday, just outside the entrance to an Israel settlement.
“The people want the body of the martyr,” the family chanted, as they raised up Palestinian flags and posters with Erekat’s smiling face on them. “Return his precious body to us to bury him,” one poster said.
As a number of armed Israeli policemen and soldiers gathered in front of the protesters, Ahmed’s mother Najah yelled: “He got out of the car and held his hands up, and you shot him! Why did you shoot him?”
“Why did you shoot him?” a grief-stricken Najah yelled, her voice cracking. “He wasn’t holding anything, my son,” she cried, seemingly referring to the fact that Ahmed was unarmed when he was killed
Erekat is one of 63 Palestinians whose bodies are currently being held by Israel, in a policy that has been described by rights groups as “collective punishment.”
The practice of detaining Palestinian bodies has been in practice since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967.
It is estimated that since then, Israel has buried at least 253 Palestinians in a “cemetery of numbers” with unmarked gravestones. Their bodies were never returned to their families for a proper burial ceremony.