Israel to Stop Returning Palestinian Security Prisoners’ Bodies for Burial
Move seen as giving bargaining chip to trade for captive Israelis and Israeli bodies
Newly appointed Israeli interim Defense Minister Naftali Bennett introduced on Wednesday a major policy change and ordered a stop to the return of bodies of Palestinian security prisoners regardless of their factional affiliation.
The decision will only take effect after the approval of the Security Cabinet.
A statement by the ministry said the decision was made following discussions with high-ranking security officials, adding that the policy would still allow for “exceptional cases” at the defense minister’s discretion.
Palestinians swiftly reacted to the news. The chairman of the Palestinian Prisoners Affairs Commission, Qadri Abu Bakr, told The Media Line that the change in policy was unfair to the families.
“This is a policy of collective punishment practiced against the families of martyrs. As if his imprisonment and house demolition weren’t enough, now they want to keep the bodies?” wondered Abu Bakr. “They [Israel] want to punish him after his death by not handing over his body to his family for burial.”
The Gaza-based Hamas organization is widely believed to be holding the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, in addition to two Israeli civilians. Reports of a possible swap between Israel and Hamas are often discussed, and many say the change would give Israel bargaining chips in a future deal.
The family of soldier Hadar Goldin welcomed the news. It has been aggressively pressuring Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to work for the return of their son’s remains.
“We are supporting the defense minister’s decision. It is inconceivable that while the soldiers are in the hands of Hamas, we will continue to release dead or living terrorists. Freeing terrorists is a prize that Hamas cannot be given while holding on to our soldiers and civilians,” they said.
Hassan Abd Rabbo, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority Prisoners Affairs Commission, told The Media Line that Bennett’s decision went against international law.
“This racist and immoral decision contradicts the Geneva Conventions. The detention of these martyrs is a violation of all these moral and humanitarian laws. Their families deserve to bury their loved ones.”
Some argue that the new policy will be part of a broader deterrence policy against future attacks on Israelis. Gonen Ben-Yitzhak, a former Shin Bet operative, doesn’t see it that way. He told The Media Line that this new policy would not work.
“I don’t like the fact that bodies are part of the Middle East bazaar. The fact that Israel is following Hamas’ steps in using this humanitarian issue of holding dead bodies to gain political benefit is wrong.”
Ben-Yitzhak said this would make the situation worse and create a body-grabbing race.
“Now we’ll start a body war. Palestinians will try to get more Israeli bodies, and we’ll try to get Hamas bodies and then start bargaining. I think it’s a mistake.”
Ben-Yitzhak added that the decision was politically motivated and would harm Israel’s image.
“If Israel wants to claim that the morality of the Israeli people is higher than that of Hamas, how come Israel is following Hamas in this. If we say we are different, we should act differently.
“The new defense minister wants to show that his new policy is completely different. Bennett is using this to advance his political agenda and purposes,” Ben-Yitzhak said.
Last September, Israel’s Supreme Court reversed an earlier ruling that said the state had no authority to hold on to the remains of Palestinians and that they must be immediately returned to their families for burial.
Under the 2019 ruling, the state may continue to hold bodies as emergency regulations allow for the military to order the interim burial of bodies designated as deceased enemies based on considerations of state security and the need to negotiate for the return of missing Israeli soldiers.