Ronnie Peterson's burial shows difficulties with civil burial in Israel

The struggle to have Ronnie Peterson buried shows us just how difficult it is to get a civil, non-religious burial in Israel

Ronnie Peterson (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ronnie Peterson
(photo credit: Courtesy)

The widow of much-loved Blues musician Ronnie Peterson, The widow of much-loved Blues musician Ronnie Peterson, who died on Monday, was unable to find a burial plot for him due to the severe lack of civil cemeteries in Israel, until the wife of Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai intervened and helped secure him a plot in a Catholic cemetery in Jaffa.

The renowned musician was buried on Thursday afternoon.
Peterson, who immigrated to Israel in 1991, was not Jewish and did not practice any religion. Since there are only three cemeteries in the entire country for state-paid civil burial for all citizens, Peterson’s widow, Nili, experienced serious difficulties finding a burial plot.
Israel’s two biggest cities, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, have no provision for civil burial, while Haifa, its third-largest city, technically has a cemetery for civil burial but currently lacks any plots, so burial there is not possible.
On Tuesday, Nili posted on her Facebook account that she had been unable to find a burial plot for Ronnie, and expressed anger at the way he was being treated after having contributed greatly and enthusiastically to the Jewish state.
“An artist who enriched the musical culture here with his own hands, who represented the State with such great honor as an emissary of the Foreign Ministry, who brought here well-known artists who had only praise for our country, an Israel advocate in his soul, a lover of Israel – and because he is not Jewish, we spent hours yesterday looking for a fitting burial place which does not cost tens of thousands of shekels,” wrote Peterson.
“Good citizenship is not measured in accordance with religion, only in accordance with the heart.”
Later on Tuesday, Nili wrote on Facebook that Yael Huldai had helped find a burial plot in the Catholic cemetery in Jaffa.
Burial in Israel is generally carried out by the institutions of the various religious faiths in the country. The state is legally mandated to provide civil burial through legislation passed in 1996, but in practice, it remains difficult to obtain.
The three cemeteries in the country that provide state-paid civil burial for all citizens are located in Beersheba, Givat Brenner, and Emek Hefer in the North.
Until recently, there was no space in Givat Brenner, although it appears that new plots have recently been developed there.
Other cemeteries in 26 cities also provide state-paid civil burial, but only for residents of those cities.
Non-residents who wish to be buried in such cemeteries have to pay substantial amounts of money to do so, which can amount to tens of thousands of shekels.
Until recently, some kibbutzim adopted a commercial program to provide civil burial services at no cost to the families of the deceased, and recouped the land and burial costs from National Insurance.
The state, however, filed law suits against kibbutzim providing this service, arguing that they were infringing on the terms under which they hold the land, which is for agricultural purposes.
The Hiddush religious pluralism organization recently petitioned the High Court of Justice to require the state to allow kibbutzim to resume their civil burial service until such time as the state provides easily accessible civil burial within a reasonable distance for all citizens.
The state was supposed to have replied to the petition by this past Wednesday, but had requested more time from the court to submit its response.