BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Israeli government has admitted to losing the remains of seven Palestinians who were killed while “committing attacks” against Israelis during the Second Intifada, Israeli news daily Haaretz reported on Monday
According to Haaretz, the admission came from the Israeli state prosecutor’s office in response to petitions to Israel’s Supreme Court filed by the slain Palestinians’ families, demanding the return of the bodies.
During a Supreme Court session last month, it was revealed that the number of Palestinians whose burial places are unknown is far higher than the seven that Israel has admitted to losing. Haaretz quoted Israeli prosecutors as saying that as of 2015, out of 123 petitions submitted by Palestinian families, only two bodies had been located.
“A number of Israeli legal and military officials say they believe the state has no information about the whereabouts of many of the bodies. In a few cases, the remains had been in Israel’s possession since the 1990s,” Haaretz said, adding that Israel has yet to decide which government agency will be tasked with handling the matter.
Haaretz quoted a Ministry of Justice official as saying that the burials of dozens of missing Palestinian bodies could have been carried out by “a few companies working for the National Insurance Institute” or the Israeli police. The official pointed out that one of the companies involved in the burial of Palestinians during the Second Intifada went out of business a few years ago, and the documents relating to the identities of the interred were destroyed.
“For many years in the 1990s, the atmosphere was different. Less importance was attributed to questions of who we put in the ground and how could we identify them in the future,” Haaretz quoted another Justice Ministry source as saying.
The Director of the Center for the Defense of the Individual Dalia Kirshstein criticized the Israeli government, saying that “every smashed Jewish gravestone around the world raises a hue and cry in Israel, but when it comes to dozens of bodies of Palestinians that disappeared, there’s complete silence.”
Haaretz quoted the Israeli army as saying that “among all the bodies of the terrorists whose families asked be returned in the framework of Supreme Court petitions, only a few were buried by the army. These were buried in cemeteries for enemy fallen, and are documented. As the Supreme Court was informed, coordination of locating all the bodies of terrorists whose return was requested and their identification is being handed by state authorities.”
Meanwhile, a coordinator for the Palestinian national campaign to restore the bodies of slain Palestinians, Amin al-Bayid, spoke to Ma'an on Monday and contradicted the Haaretz report, saying that the bodies of Palestinians who were killed in the Second Intifada “who blew themselves up seeking to die martyrs are all available and there is no problem identifying them."
Separately, al-Bayid added that the committee had previously filed an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court through the Jerusalem Center for Human Rights to release 65 bodies of Palestinians who were killed before 1980 and were buried in what Israel calls "enemy fighter cemeteries," known to Palestinians as "cemeteries of numbers."
According to al-Bayid, the 65 bodies in question were bodies of Palestinians killed before 1980, and when asked to provide justification for why the bodies were not being released to their families, the Israeli army reportedly said that they failed to identify the bodies due to the fact that they were buried by private companies.
In Monday’s report, Haaretz quoted a senior official from the Israeli Ministry of Justice as saying that “some of the bodies have been lost, but we are continuing to look for them and learning lessons for the future.”
Israel has come under harsh criticism from rights groups in the past year and a half, as Israeli authorities continued to implement a policy of withholding Palestinian bodies
killed by Israeli forces, claiming that funerals of Palestinians had provided grounds for “incitement” against the Israeli state.
Furthermore, Israel has refused to return the bodies of slain Palestinians affiliated with the Hamas movement
, as it considers the bodies to be a bargaining chip that could be used in a future exchange deal with Hamas, the de facto ruling party of the besieged Gaza Strip, where the bodies of two Israeli soldiers are believed to be held.
A joint statement released by Addameer and Israeli minority rights group Adalah in March 2016 condemned Israel’s practice of withholding bodies as "a severe violation of international humanitarian law as well as international human rights law, including violations of the right to dignity, freedom of religion, and the right to practice culture."