Israel halts return of Palestinian attackers’ bodies to families

© Mussa Qawasma
Israel’s public security minister has ordered a stop on the return of the bodies of dead Palestinian attackers to their families.

"I've instructed the police to stop the returning of bodies of terrorists," minister Gilad Erdan wrote on his Facebook page on Tuesday.

He said he saw “outrageous” images from the East Jerusalem funeral of a Palestinian man who killed a rabbi in October, with the ceremony attended by hundreds of mourners who shouted, “with spirit and blood we will redeem you, O holy victim.”

Under agreements between police and the families, the funerals must be held at night and with a minimal number of participants.

“The families lied to the High Court of Justice after they promised to obey the police demands. It is a shame that the court believed them and put pressure on the police to return the bodies before the Ramadan month,” he added.

People at the funeral march on Monday were mourning Alaa Abu Jamal, a resident of the Jabel Mukaber neighborhood in southern East Jerusalem. Last October, he was shot dead by police after killing a 59-year-old Jewish rabbi and wounding two other people.

Abu Jamal’s body had been held by security forces since October, as well as 17 other bodies of attackers, including 11 from East Jerusalem.

Israeli police appear to be against the proposed ban on returning bodies, though. An anonymous police official told media outlet Ynet that Abu Jamal's family had met Israel's requirements, and the slogans were shouted outside the cemetery. In addition, only 40 people attended the funeral itself.

The highly controversial practice of withholding the bodies of Palestinians has often come under fire, with Palestinians and human rights organizations saying it violates the rights of the families to bury their loved ones and leads to more violence.

It comes a few weeks after Israel specifically agreed to give the bodies to the families if they consent to a modest, night-time burial, rather than a large funeral march.

On May 3, Israel's Supreme Court advised that the police should "coordinate with the families and return the bodies of their sons before Ramadan" – a holy Muslim month of fasting that starts in June.

In the past few weeks, Israeli security forces have handed over the bodies of several Palestinians to their families.

In March, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to delegate the decision of whether to return the bodies of Palestinians to Erdan’s Ministry of Public Security and to the Defense Ministry.

Not everyone in the Israeli government supported the move, however: right-wing Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said that Netanyahu’s step “is not just a disgrace, but also seriously undermines the deterrence of potential terrorists and encourages terror attacks.” Liberman urged the premier “to immediately resign” afterwards.

At least 203 Palestinians and 28 Israelis have been killed in an eight-month wave of violence in Israel and the West Bank.