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19-year-old Palestinian laid to rest after Israeli authorities withheld body for 10 months

Aug. 30, 2016 1:52 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 31, 2016 10:55 A.M.)
The mother of Thaer Abu Ghazaleh holds a rose to remind herself that her son's body was in a morgue on his 20th birthday.
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) -- After holding his body in a morgue for more than ten months, Israeli forces returned slain Thaer Abu Ghazaleh, 19, to his family in occupied East Jerusalem after midnight Monday.

Abu Ghazaleh was shot and killed by Israeli forces in early October after he carried out a stabbing attack in Tel Aviv which left four Israelis injured.

The teenager’s mother expressed her grief to Ma’an, saying that the family would have celebrated her son’s 20th birthday last Saturday, but that his body remained in a morgue under Israeli custody instead.

Abu Ghazaleh was buried in occupied East Jerusalem’s al-Mujahidin cemetery outside the walls of the Old City.

His mother insisted on laying flowers at his grave after he was buried, saying that she placed 19 flowers at his grave and kept the 20th flower “to be with me all my life for remembrance.”

She added that the family received Abu Ghazaleh’s body at the cemetery’s gate, as large numbers of Israeli troops and police officers deployed around the cemetery.

“We shrouded him, performed the funeral prayer, then I carried him in my very hands and bid him a final farewell before we laid him to rest,” his mother said.

The bereaved mother said the last time she saw Abu Ghazaleh before he was killed was during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha last year, saying that she was living in Hebron at the time, while her son was at their home in occupied East Jerusalem.

Israeli forces closed all roads surrounding the cemetery -- which is located almost directly across the street from the Old City’s Herod's Gate -- for more than two hours in order to clear pedestrians and passersby from forming a crowd in anticipation of Abu Ghazaleh’s body being delivered.

Forces also held the family for two hours at the entrance to Herod’s Gate, and prevented them from exiting the walls of the Old City until the body was delivered to the cemetery, at which time they were allowed to cross the empty and heavily guarded streets to attend the funeral, according to the director of the Jerusalem office of the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS) Nasser Qaws .

Lawyer Muhammad Mahmoud of prisoners’ rights group Addameer said Israeli intelligence forces returned the body after midnight on the condition that only 25 family members attend the funeral.

He added that the family was also forced to pay a fee of of 20,000 shekels (approximately $5,290) as an “insurance fee” to make sure the family abided by the rules imposed on them.

According to Qaws, both journalists and passersby were evacuated from the area, after Israeli forces threatened to cancel the return of the body if they didn’t stay away.

In addition to journalists not being allowed to go to the family’s house in the Old City after the burial, Israeli forces did not allow the family to set up a tent outside the house, as is customary practice in order to receive people who come to offer condolences for three days following the burial.

Story continues below.

The return of Abu Ghazaleh’s body leaves the number of slain Palestinians accused of committing attacks against Israelis whose bodies are still being held in Israeli morgues at 13, including including three women and three residents of occupied East Jerusalem, among them Bahaa Elayyan, 22, Abd al-Muhsen Hassuneh, 21, and Muhammad Abu Khalaf, 20.

Earlier this month, Issa Qaraqe, the head of the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs, made a statement saying that Israeli authorities had approved the “gradual release” of slain Palestinian bodies.

Israeli authorities also added preconditions for the release of the bodies, stipulating that the funerals be held at 1 a.m. and that only the families of the slain Palestinians would be permitted to attend, as was seen during Abu Ghazaleh’s funeral after midnight Monday.

The families of the slain Palestinians have appealed the Israeli Supreme Court for months, with the court ruling in May that all of the bodies of Palestinians held by Israel be released to their families before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in June.

However, after releasing the body of Alaa Abu Jamal, Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan ordered that Israeli police suspend the return of the bodies just a few weeks after the ruling, claiming that the funeral encouraged "incitement" against the state of Israel.

The families have since had to return to court to negotiate the release of their slain family members.

In June, Israeli police decided that slain Palestinians from East Jerusalem accused of "terrorism" would no longer have funerals in their neighborhoods or villages, but would instead be buried in cemeteries chosen by the police, adding to the long list of preconditions.

While the families of the slain Palestinians have accepted conditions set by Israeli police, many bodies have yet to be released by Israeli authorities, despite Israeli intelligence agreeing to return the body of Bahaa Elayyan, who has been held in an Israeli mortuary in Jaffa for over 10 months.

On the same day of the announcement to release Elayyan’s body, Israeli intelligence backtracked on its decision when the family refused more preconditions after they had already signed an agreement with Israeli authorities and accepted all previous Israeli conditions.

Israeli authorities have dramatically escalated their policy of withholding slain Palestinian bodies since a wave of unrest swept across the Palestinian territory and Israel in October, during which time 220 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis and 32 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians.

The United Nations released a report in May stating that Israeli authorities have prohibited autopsies from being conducted on Palestinian corpses, and that the bodies were kept in poor and inhumane conditions, “stacked on top of each other.”

“The bodies returned to the families are often disfigured, sometimes beyond recognition, denying the families the right to accord, with dignity, final religious rites,” the report read.

Human rights organizations have also widely condemned the policy, with prisoners’ rights group Addameer calling it a form of “collective punishment” against Palestinians who had not been accused of any wrongdoing, also noting that it “adds to the severe grief and trauma of families of the deceased.”

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