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Palestinians protest in Bethlehem, demand Israel release slain Palestinian bodies

Sept. 12, 2017 6:23 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 13, 2017 3:38 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Dozens of Palestinians in the southern occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem took to the streets on Tuesday and demanded that Israel return the bodies of slain Palestinians to their families, as the Israeli Supreme Court is expected to discuss on Wednesday whether to release Palestinian remains that have continued to be withheld by the Israeli state.

The protest was organized by the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs in coordination with local groups and was attended by Bethlehem Governor Jibrin al-Bakri, representatives of several organizations, and relatives of slain Palestinians, whose bodies are still held by Israel.

Head of the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Qaraqe delivered a speech during the protest, saying that Israel’s policy of withholding Palestinian bodies was an “organized crime” committed by Israel at an official level.

He added that the policy was “vengeful,” a form of “collective punishment", and an “ugly violation of all international and human laws."

Israel has said that the policy of withholding Palestinian remains from their families in the occupied territory is an attempt to avoid “incitement” during funerals of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in the occupied territory. When bodies are returned, Israel imposes strict conditions on funerals.

However, others have pointed out that Israel withholds Palestinian bodies in order to use their remains as a bargaining chip for any future negotiations with Palestinian leaders.

Israel has continued to hold several Palestinian bodies affiliated with the Hamas movement for more than a year, in order to exert pressure on Hamas to release the bodies of two Israeli soldiers believed to be held in the Gaza Strip.

The protest-goers urged the PA to do more to secure the release of the bodies. Azhar Abu Srour, whose slain son Abd al-Hamid Abu Srour has been held by Israel for almost a year and a half, urged the Palestinian public to organize more activities to demand the return of Palestinian bodies to their families.

Meanwhile, al-Bakri slammed the Israeli government’s policies for being in violation of international law, and applauded Palestinian officials who have worked for the return of Palestinian bodies.

The Israeli Supreme Court is expected to discuss an appeal submitted by the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs and the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center demanding the return of the bodies on Wednesday.

A statement released by the committee said that they issued an appeal after Israel’s Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan suggested that two of the slain bodies be buried in Israel’s “cemetery of numbers,” a series of mass graves comprised of marked and unmarked plots of mostly Palestinians killed by Israeli forces over the past 60 years.

However, the Israeli Supreme Court had rejected this proposal in the past when suggested by the Israeli prosecution.

According to the statement, the slain Palestinians included in the committee’s latest appeal were Abd al-Hamid Abu Srour, Muhammad Tarayra, Muhammad al-Faqih, Rami Awartani, Misbah Abu Sbeih, Fadi al-Qunbar, and three Palestinians killed in June for carrying out an attack in Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan -- Adel Ankoush, Baraa Ibrahim Saleh Taha, and Osama Ahmad Dahdouh.

The statement added that Israel has continued to withhold 249 slain Palestinian bodies, who have been buried in the “cemetery of numbers,” for decades.

However, Palestinian leaders expressed their lack of hope in the Israeli Supreme Court during the protest in Bethlehem. “We don’t count on the Israeli judiciary, because it’s unjust, biased, and nothing more than a tool serving the occupation’s racist and extremist authorities,” Qaraqe said.

Instead, he added, Palestinians “must depend on the continuation of popular and international activities and protests to end these ongoing crimes.”
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