Cabinet approves Israel holding onto all bodies of Palestinian attackers

DM Gantz demanded change to the policy that until now was to only hold onto those who were Hamas members

Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz delivers a statement to the media at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on August 24, 2020.  (photo credit: OREN BEN HAKOON/POOL)
Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz delivers a statement to the media at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on August 24, 2020.
(photo credit: OREN BEN HAKOON/POOL)
Israel’s security cabinet on Wednesday approved a proposal by Defense Minister Benny Gantz that the bodies of all Palestinian attackers be withheld and not returned to their families as a deterrent against terror attacks.
While Israel has not returned the bodies of attackers in recent months, the policy that Gantz wanted to change states that Israel can only hold back the bodies of attackers who are members of Hamas.
Gantz presented the demand to change the policy to the Security Cabinet so that the bodies of any Palestinian attacker, even those who don’t belong to a terror group, will remain in Israeli hands.
Welcoming the decision, Gantz said that he has been applying an extensive policy of deterrence since entering office, by preventing the return of terrorist bodies, seizing funds from terror organizations, and intensifying attacks in response to violence on all fronts.
“Refusal to return the bodies of terrorists is part of our commitment of maintaining the security of Israeli citizens, and of course to bring [the bodies of IDF soldiers killed in battle and Israeli MIAs] home. I hope our enemy understands and internalizes the message well,” he said.
Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which is representing the family of Ahmad Erekat in the Israeli Supreme Court petition demanding the return of his body for burial, issued a response to the decision, calling it barbaric.
"The Israeli security cabinet’s decision to withhold the bodies of Palestinians is extremely problematic and is driven clearly by motivations for vengeance,” they said.
“The policy of using human bodies as bargaining chips violates the most basic universal values and international law which prohibit cruel and inhuman treatment. This position has indeed already been supported by three Israeli Supreme Court justices. This is an extreme and barbaric policy and there is no country in the world that would adopt it. Israel’s Supreme Court will now demand an examination of Israel’s continued withholding of bodies and seek the legal justification for the continued suffering of Palestinian families affected by this decision. Adalah will continue to work against any policy of collective punishment."
The decision came several hours after a Palestinian was shot by IDF troops after ramming an Israeli police officer and soldier and then trying to stab them, lightly wounding them at the Tapuach Junction. The attacker, identified as Mohammed Jabr al-Bitawi from the Nablus area was reportedly in moderate condition.
Following attacks in which Palestinians are killed by Israeli security forces, their bodies are regularly taken by Israel. Though bodies are sometimes returned to their families at a later date so that they can be buried, they can also be withheld in order to be used as part of negotiations to retrieve the bodies of Israeli soldiers held by Hamas.
There are four bodies of Palestinian attackers who were not Hamas members currently in Israel’s possession.
The remains of two IDF soldiers killed in the 2014 war, Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Oron Shaul, remain in the hands of Hamas in the Gaza Strip despite years of their families begging both sides to return their sons for burial.
In September, the High Court of Justice ruled that the military has the legal right to hold the bodies of attackers for use as leverage in future negotiations with Palestinians. The rare decision which was adopted after a majority vote by a panel of seven justices reversed a 2017 ruling on the matter and came in response to a petition by the families of six Palestinian attackers whose bodies were being held by Israel.
Two months later, then defense minister Naftali Bennett instructed the IDF and the defense establishment to completely stop the release of terrorist bodies, regardless of which terrorist organization the person belonged and of the type of attack they committed or attempted to commit.
According to N12, following cabinet discussions, it was decided not to release any more bodies other than in exceptional cases such as when the attacker is a minor. Such discretionary decisions would be left to the defense minister.