FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Occupied Bodies

Since 1967 Israel has maintained an unofficial policy of detaining Palestinian and Arab war victims in mass graves and cemeteries. Today at last 348 bodies are held prisoner by the Israeli government their families unable to retrieve their remains.

In a traditional conflict, the bodies of the deceased would be returned to their country of origin following peace and removal of the occupying power.  Israel refuses to return the bodies to their families, some of whom have been waiting for decades, on the basis that the conflict is temporary and withholding the remains is necessary to maintain internal security.

Yet as the occupation enters its 46th year and with no end in sight, the Israeli government still retains nearly 350 bodies despite numerous appeals to the Israeli court and international condemnation of the practice. JLAC, The Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center, heads up the campaign to release Arab war victims and disclose the fate of those missing.  In an interview on Thursday July 11th, at the JLAC office in Ramallah Palestine, lawyer Haytham Khatib explained the motives behind Israel withholding these bodies.

“The rational behind this policy is a security condition, or a security pretext.  Israeli considers all of them [deceased combatants] as terrorists, not fighter and soldiers and therefore the Geneva Conventions regarding the treatment of enemy dead do not apply.”

Khatib went on to say “Israel recognizes the importance of funeral and religious practices for Arab peoples, as well as the importance of Martyrs in Palestinian society.”  Withholding the remains enacts a “collective punishment” against the families of fighters as well as providing a potential deterrent against future resistance.

This practice of withholding remains is consistent with Israeli attempts throughout history to present its activities in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) within the context of perpetual war.  As Israeli historian Ilan Pappe wrote in his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, this context presents actions “In such a manner, that all activities, including atrocities are portrayed as part of a theater of war, wherein things are judged on a moral basis in a manner very different from the ways they would be treated in non-combatant situation.”  In this case the imprisonment of the remains of dead combatants is understood as a necessary wartime practice instead of a colony policy designed to exact a toll on those that have resisted the occupation.

The Numbers 

According to JLAC’s campaign coordinator Salem Khilleh, the organization has documented 442 cases of deceased combatants, including 66 that are still missing (assumed dead). 416 of the 442 cases are Palestinian, the rest Arab combatants from neighboring countries who died while fighting in Palestine.  The majority of these victims are PLO fighters who engaged in direct combat with Israeli forces but also include those that died while serving prison sentences, in direct clashes with IDF, killed or missing while crossing border and a few that died in terrorists attacks against Israeli civilians.

The deceased are held in secret cemeteries located in closed military zones.  So far only four of these so-called “cemeteries of numbers” have been identified, the exact number of deceased combatants is impossible to know given that Israel has net released information on how many bodies it retains.  Salem Khilleh describes these cemeteries: “there are no names just iron bars with numbers corresponding to info on the deceased, the graves are small and shallow often containing multiple bodies.” Prior to 1976 deceased were buried without any clear Israeli policy or process, the bodies left unidentified.  Many of the deceased were placed in mass graves in shallow sandy soil running the risk of exposure and animal disturbance.

JLAC Campaign

In August of 2008 JLAC began its campaign to retrieve the bodies of the dead and disclose the fate of those missing.  According to Salem the idea for the campaign began when one of the parents of a deceased soldier contacted JLAC.  “He was 85 at the time; his last wish was to retrieve the body of his son, “ Salem recalled the elderly man saying.

The campaigns first success came with the release of the remains of Mashour Taleb Saleh who was killed 1976 in a PLO guerilla operation in Israel.  In 2010, after a successful petition by JLAC to the Israeli Supreme Court, the Israeli Authority released Mashour’s remains to his family, some 33 years after his death.

In an interview in 2010 Mashour’s brother spoke about the Israeli policy.  “Confiscating corpses is an immoral policy, the dead are dead.  This is punishment for both the living and the deceased.  It’s a policy of revenge; there is no law that allows anyone to retain a corps as prisoner for decades.” Since 2010 JLAC has successfully secured the release of 92 other bodies and is petitioning for the release and disclosure of all remaining deceased combatants along with the missing.

Legality

In a report submitted to the United Nations in 2009, JLAC exposes Israel continued violation of international law and the “the inappropriate and disrespectful actions practiced on human bodies. ” Conventional and customary International Humanitarian Law has determined that contesting parties in armed conflict, whether international or domestic, must respect the dead whether killed in the battlefield or died while in detention. Bodies must be collected, evacuated, buried in properly marked graves and their families must be notified. Moreover, the return of dead bodies to the party that they belong to or upon the request of their next of kin is an international obligation duly recognized under international customary law and relevant treaties.

Israeli actions constitute a direct violation of international Law and Article 17, 120, 130 of the Geneva Convention that outline the criteria for treatment of enemy bodies.

Graves are not adequately maintained and bodies are buried in areas at high risk of exposure. Tombs are not properly marked and families are unaware of their location, bared from visiting their loved ones.  Furthermore as Khilleh notes that prior to the 1st of September 1976, “None of the cases were documented, identified or filed.   Some of the bodes were used to harvest organs and as cadavers for medical students, while the conditions of the graves have made it impossible to identify some of the returned remains.   These actions show a severe and criminal disrespect for the bodies of the deceased.”

Yet throughout the conflict Israeli has considered itself within its legal right to retain the remains of these war victims, defining all forms of resistance to the occupation as terrorism.  The Israeli governments treatment of the Palestinian dead is consistent with numerous policies in the West Bank where supposed security threats supplant international law.  The expansive nature of the term security in Israeli is used to rationalize the imprisonment of the dead and the living.  According to the Palestinian Prisoners rights association Addameer, more than 800,000 Palestinian have been incarcerated in Israeli jails since the onset of the occupation in 1967, thousands of which held in administrative detention without charge or trail.

Colonial Policy

The unofficial Israeli policy of withholding the bodies of Arab and Palestinian war victims, if viewed in comparison to other wartime conflicts, is consistent with international law.  However it is important to contextualize this violence within the reality of the conflict itself.  Israel continual retention of the Palestinian dead is not a byproduct of war but a form collective punishment for resisting colonialism. Israel’s policy to withhold the remains of enemy combatants is consistent with the State’s narrative of perpetual war. This narrative aims to present the conflict as a battle between competing powers, not the asymmetrical struggle against the ongoing occupation and Judaization of the oPt. The inability for Palestinian and Arab families to burry and honor their loved ones reflects a gross violation of their rights and an extension of Israeli control over the bodies of the living and the deceased. For these Palestinians the occupation extends to the grave.

Sam Gilbert writes about the Middle East.

More articles by:

January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
Vijay Prashad
5.5 Million Women Build Their Wall
Nicky Reid
Lessons From Rojava
Ted Rall
Here is the Progressive Agenda
Robert Koehler
A Green Future is One Without War
Gary Leupp
The Chickens Come Home to Roost….in Northern Syria
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: “The Country Is Watching”
Sam Gordon
Who Are Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists?
Weekend Edition
January 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Richard Moser
Neoliberalism: Free Market Fundamentalism or Corporate Power?
Paul Street
Bordering on Fascism: Scholars Reflect on Dangerous Times
Joseph Majerle III – Matthew Stevenson
Who or What Brought Down Dag Hammarskjöld?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
How Tre Arrow Became America’s Most Wanted Environmental “Terrorist”
Andrew Levine
Dealbreakers: The Democrats, Trump and His Wall
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Que Syria, Syria
Dave Lindorff
A Potentially Tectonic Event Shakes up the Mumia Abu-Jamal Case
Nick Pemberton
There Are More Important Things Than The Truth
Brian Cloughley
How Trump’s Insults and Lies are Harming America
David Rosen
Sexual Predators in the Era of Trump
Tamara Pearson
Everything the Western Mainstream Media Outlets Get Wrong When Covering Poor Countries
Richard E. Rubenstein
Trump vs. the Anti-Trumps: It’s the System That Needs Changing Not Just the Personnel
Christopher Ketcham
A Walk in the Woods, Away from the Screens
Basav Sen
Democrats Failed Their First Big Test on Climate
Lauren Smith
Nicaragua – The Irony of the NICA Act Being Signed into Law by Trump
Joseph Natoli
Will Trumpism Outlive Trump?
Olivia Alperstein
The EPA Rule Change That Could Kill Thousands
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
The New Congress Needs to Create a Green Planet at Peace
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
Cuba: Trump Turns the Vise
Ramzy Baroud
When Bolsonaro and Netanyahu Are ‘Brothers’: Why Brazil Should Shun the Israeli Model
Mitchell Zimmerman
Government by Extortion
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail