As the debate over the efficacy and legality of withholding Palestinian terrorists’ corpses from their families for burial continues, advocates and opponents of the controversial practice claim there are inherent merits and shortcomings to the policy.
Noting that burial ceremonies for Palestinian terrorists frequently devolve into raucous and violent events celebrating the deceased as a “martyr” – while enticing other impressionable terrorists to kill – the government continues to delay the return of bodies as a means of deterrence.
Presently, there are six east Jerusalem terrorists’ corpses being withheld by the government since a terror wave engulfed the capital last September. However, the practice is not without its detractors, who claim it to be inhumane.
After receiving a petition from the family of one of the terrorist’s demanding the return of his body, the High Court last month ordered police to provide a legal justification for the protracted practice.
MK Dr. Anat Berko (Likud), a criminologist and counter-terrorism expert who sits on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, defends delayed burials as an effective deterrent against using such burials as a propaganda tool to recruit other killers.
“As time passes, it becomes more and more obvious that the Palestinians learned from Israel that the return of the dead causes the country to close ranks,” Berko wrote in a piece entitled “Dead Terrorists and Palestinian National Imagery,” published in The Investigative Project on Terrorism.
“They are exploiting the theme to foster social solidarity, and reinforce the idealization of martyrdom and sacrifice.”
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Indeed, in a new effort to engender support and international sympathy, Berko contends that the Palestinian leadership has recently cynically focused on the issue of returning dead terrorists’ bodies in a timely manner as a “new national theme.”
“In the foreseeable future, it will be integrated into the ideological indoctrination of children (and adults) subjected to the propaganda machine that serves Palestinian terrorism and its death industry of shaheeds (martyrs),” she wrote.
“The Palestinian leadership is attempting to turn a rabble of internecine terrorist organizations into a political entity groping its way towards a uniform identity and common narrative, which will help it meet the international criteria of a ‘people,’ as understood by the civilized world.”
To this end, Berko said Palestinians go to great lengths to treat terrorists as celebrated fallen freedom fighters, instead of depraved killers who target innocent non-combatants.
“The coffins are draped in flags to lend them the air of fallen soldiers, instead of calling them terrorists who died blowing up innocent people,” she wrote. “[It is] the same way the Palestinians hijacked the term ‘resistance’ from the French to make the deliberate and indiscriminate mass murder of non-combatants acceptable to Western ears.”
Indeed, according to Berko, the Palestinian families who receive their relatives’ bodies are used by the “Palestinian propaganda machine, which is working day and night to stock its arsenals with potential shaheeds, who will murder Israeli civilians and glorify death and self-sacrifice.”
However, those on the political left argue that withholding bodies is inhumane and counterproductive.
Former east Jerusalem portfolio head and Mertez city councilman, Dr. Meir Margalit, denounced the practice as antithetical to Judaism, and a political weapon arming Palestinian killers.
“I am secular, but I have to say that this is against Judaism’s philosophy,” he said on Thursday. “In Judaism you cannot hold bodies as a device for political gains. Secondly, people who already hate Israel become even more extremist against the country and Judaism because this is a kind of behavior that criminals carry out.”
While conceding that Hamas and Hezbollah routinely inhumanely withhold Jewish bodies as a means of bargaining, he contended that the Israeli government should not reduce itself to their barbaric level.
“A country that retains bodies must be the worst of the worst,” he said. “This is something that an animal would do. But we should not compete with them to see who is more of an animal.”
Moreover, although there is no official data determining the efficacy of the practice, Margalit asserts that it is fueling a new generation of killers.
“This will not decrease the number of terrorists; it will increase the number of people who want to attack Israel,” he said.
Margalit added that although delaying the funerals and ensuring limited attendance may prevent immediate violence, he dismissed the practice as a short-sighted strategy.
“Even if they block people from going during the night, the terrorists are still considered ‘shaheed’ – so they will go to the family’s house and hold another ceremony one week later, so what is the difference?” he said. “It is not wise or ethical, and the consequences will be worse than if we give them back in a timely manner.”
Margalit continued: “The families were not part of the attack, and we become animals the same way terrorists are animals by doing this.”
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