OccupationStory

An open wound: Palestinian families devastated after the Israeli cabinet’s decision to retain bodies of killed relatives

“the decision relies on an old British mandate law that allowed the army to retain a body, for purposes of investigation. But the ‘Israeli’ occupation expanded the old British law, allowing retention of bodies for negotiation purposes, which can legally fall out in the court”.

When 38-year-old Fadi Samarah drove his car, last May, to his parents-in-law’s house in order to pick up his wife and their five children, no one in his family thought that he wasn’t going to make it to his destination alive, or dead.

Fadi Samarah was shot by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank. The occupation army said later that he tried to run-over their soldiers, while his family denied it, affirming that he was on his way to his wife and children. Either way, while no occupation soldiers were hurt and when none of them was in danger, Fadi Samarah was left to bleed and die. The occupation forces then took his body and never gave it back to his family.

Last Wednesday, the ‘Israeli’ cabinet approved the proposal made by its minister of war, Benny Gantz, deciding not to release any of the retained bodies of killed Palestinians, like Fadi Samarah. In 2017, the occupation government had made the same decision, but the ‘Israeli’ high court did not approve it entirely. Instead, the court ruled that only the bodies of Palestinians who belonged to Hamas, or of those who were killed while attacking the occupation, would not qualify to be released. But yesterday’s decision erases any distinction, as it affirms the occupation’s with-hold of the bodies of all killed and retained Palestinians, regardless of their political background or the context of their death.

Un-ended grieving

To Samarah’s family, the news is devastating; “ This is a very painful moment. We had hoped that we would eventually be able to bury Fadi and we have been waiting for months”, says Fadi’s brother, Eyad. “To us, it is very important to honor our dead by giving them burial. Unless we do, we can not finish our grieving and overcome the loss”.

The Samarah family is one of the 66 Palestinian families who have joined their efforts for the past five years, launching an advocacy campaign to claim back the bodies of their beloved ones from the occupation’s hands. Mohammad Abu Sneinah, the campaign’s lawyer, affirms that the occupation cabinet’s decision is “weak from a legal perspective”. According to Abu Sneinah; “the decision relies on an old British mandate law that allowed the army to retain a body, for purposes of investigation. But the ‘Israeli’ occupation expanded the old British law, allowing retention of bodies for negotiation purposes, which can legally fall out in the court”.

Bargain on the dead

A negotiation with Hamas, by which ‘Israel’ hopes to bring back its four soldiers retained by the Palestinian resistance since the 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza. ‘Israel’ has maintained its claim that its captured soldiers are dead, which means that bodies of killed Palestinians are a bargaining tool for ‘Israel’, to avoid the release of living Palestinian prisoners in any coming deal with Hamas.

But for Eyad Samarah; “the retention of a dead body is more painful for families because “unlike a living prisoner, a dead one is an open wound that the family needs to close”. Last November, the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem described the retention of Palestinian bodies by the occupation forces a “contemptible policy”, affirming that the retention of the bodies as tools of negotiation is being allowed by the ‘Israelه’ high court itself.

Collective punishment

“It is a minute by minute suffering”, points out Eyad Samarah, describing the impact of his brother’s body retention on his family. “My mother is the most affected among us. Whenever she opens the fridge she breaks into tears saying that her son is being kept in a fridge”. To Eyad, “the occupation not only killed my brother but is torturing us daily”. Legally, Mohammad Abu Sneinah affirms that “the retention of bodies constitutes a form of collective punishment and amounts to a war crime”.

For Abu Sneinah, “In addition to negotiating a swap deal with Hamas, this decision could be related to the coming ‘Israeli’ elections, where both Gantz and Netanyahu want to satisfy the ‘Israeli’ right-wing public”. But Eyad Samarah thinks that “the occupation wants to repress the Palestinian people by making as many people as possible suffer. This is about repression and vengeance”.

People need to know…

Despite the blow received from the Israeli decision, Palestinian families plan to continue their struggle. “When they use this decision to retain a body, we will appeal, and take the case to the ‘Israeli’ high court” explains Mohammad Abu Sneuinah; “The decision is weak, as I said, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be ruled out”.

Eyad Samarah takes this skepticism further; “Although we continue our legal struggle, we don’t trust the ‘Israeli’ judicial system. There has to be pressure in the street, in Palestine, and in the world”. Mohamad Abu Sneinah shares the same call; “People everywhere need to know and acknowledge that ‘Israel’ is the only state in the world where the retention of dead bodies to bargain on them is allowed by law, and they have to mobilize and protest”, he affirms, “after all, its is the silence towards these crimes that allow the occupation to continue them”.

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