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Israel returns body of slain Palestinian 263 days after being shot dead

Sept. 8, 2016 11:25 A.M. (Updated: Sept. 14, 2016 5:22 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- 263 days after he was shot dead by Israeli forces, Israel returned the body of 21-year-old Abd al-Muhsen Hassuneh to his family in occupied East Jerusalem in the predawn hours of Thursday.

Hassuneh was killed on December 14 after carrying out a car ramming attack on a bus stop in Jerusalem which injured 11 Israelis, shortly after he had announced his engagement.

Shortly after Israeli authorities returned Hassuneh’s body to his family just after midnight, the family buried him in the al-Mujahidin cemetery just outside the walls of the Old City.

His mother told Ma’an about the night he was killed, saying he had left their home in Hebron City and was heading to a nearby mosque for dawn prayers so he could hand out sweets in celebration of his engagement.

“We have waited 263 days to receive his body and bury him,” she said, “Abed was special among his brothers as he was my son and my friend. I miss seeing him and kissing him every day.”

Similar to other cases of bodies being returned to their families completely frozen, Hassuneh's mother told Ma'an that her son's body was "a little frozen, but his face is like the moon.”

Shaher Hassuneh, Abd al-Muhsen’s father, said that Israeli authorities guarded the funeral heavily, preventing people from taking pictures and chanting prayers at the burial, in addition to the preconditions set by Israeli police limiting the numbers of attendees to 25 family members, and forcing the family to pay an “insurance fee."

Israeli forces also reportedly forced the Hassuneh family to cross out the word “martyr” from a wreath of flowers that the family had brought to put on his grave.

Israeli forces also closed off the surrounding areas of the al-Mujahidin cemetery and prevented people from reaching nearby streets.

The family highlighted that as some family members, including Hassuneh’s mother, hold occupied West Bank ID cards -- which do not allow access to Jerusalem -- they had to apply for permits to attend the funeral, and had to wait until Wednesday, just hours before the set time of the funeral, until permits were issued for them.

The father added that another condition for the return of Hassuneh’s body was that he would be immediately buried at the al-Mujahidin cemetery in Jerusalem City, despite the fact that the family had previously reached an agreement with Israeli officials earlier this year to receive their son’s body and bury him in Hebron City.

The announcement that Hassuneh’s body would be released took place in early January, and came with the sole condition that Israeli authorities would chose the location of the Hebron cemetery in which he would be buried.

But according to Hassuneh’s father, Israeli authorities “stalled for eight months” until they eventually decided that Hassuneh would be buried in the same cemetery as slain East Jerusalem residents accused of carrying out attacks when they were killed.

Muhammad Mahmoud, a lawyer for prisoners rights group Addameer, said back in January that Israel had agreed to return the body of Hassuneh and allow the family to bury him in Hebron City without imposing any conditions, adding that Hassuneh had lived in Jerusalem for two years before moving to Hebron with his family.

Story continues below.

The release of Hassuneh’s body left the number of slain Palestinians accused of committing attacks against Israelis who are still being held in Israeli morgues at 11, including three women and the body of Mustafa Nimr from occupied East Jerusalem’s Shufat refugee camp, who was “mistakenly” shot dead by Israeli forces early Monday.

Within the last two weeks, the bodies of three slain East Jerusalem residents were returned to their families and buried in al-Mujahidin cemetery under strict Israeli police presence.

200 days after being killed by Israeli forces, 19-year-old Muhammad Abu Khalaf was returned to his family and buried in al-Mujahidin cemetery.

Abu Khalaf, a resident of the village of Kafr Aqab in central Jerusalem, was shot dead on Feb.19 after he stabbed and wounded two Israeli border police officers outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate.

After holding his body in a morgue for more than ten months, Israeli forces returned the body of Thaer Abu Ghazaleh, 19, one week after what would have been his 20th birthday.

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.

After 325 days in an Israeli morgue, the body of 22-year-old Bahaa Elayyan was returned on Thursday to his family, which has been leading the movement advocating for Israel to release slain Palestinians' bodies.

Elayyan, a resident of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabal al-Mukabbir, was killed alongside another Palestinian after they attacked an Israeli bus on Oct. 13, killing three Israelis with knives and a gun.

Earlier last 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.

It was then that Israeli authorities added the 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.

The families of the slain Palestinians have appealed to 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, 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 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 -- such as al-Mujahidin cemetery -- adding to the long list of preconditions.

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 221 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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