Withholding the Dead: One of Israel’s More Macabre Practices

One of Israel's "cemeteries of numbers" in which Israelis bury Palestinians --without ever returning the bodies to their families and where the name of the deceased is deliberately left off the grave
One of Israel’s “cemeteries of numbers” in which Israelis are said to bury Palestinians –without ever returning the bodies to their families and where the name of the deceased is deliberately left off the grave

Ma’an News has today posted a story about a committee in Bethlehem formed to demand that Israel return the bodies of Palestinians slain in the current intifada. The “Palestine National Committee for Retrieving Bodies of Martyrs,” as it’s now known, was elected by the families of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces, the story says.

The Jewish state’s practice of refusing to return bodies to grieving families is not a new phenomenon. It did not begin with the present intifada, but has been ongoing for a number of years. The Ma’an article mentions that even prior to the start of the violence back in October, Israel was already holding a total of 262 bodies, some of them for an extremely long period of time. In fact one member of the committee, Ahmad Dabash, had a brother who was killed 14 years ago and whose body was never returned.

Back in November, Riyad Mansour, Palestine’s Permanent Observer at the UN, sent a letter to the president of the UN Security Council reporting that medical examinations conducted on Palestinian bodies which had been returned showed evidence of illegal organ harvesting.

“After returning the seized bodies of Palestinians killed by the occupying forces through October, and following medical examinations, it has been reported that the bodies were returned with missing corneas and other organs,” Mansour said.

He added that this amounted to confirmation of “past reports about organ harvesting.”

The accusation prompted an angry response from the Israeli UN Ambassador Danny Danon, who called it a “blood libel” and called upon the UN to “repudiate this sinister accusation,” yet the public charge by Mansour may have resulted in Israeli officials deciding to scale back their corpse inventory–for as Ma’an notes:

Israel in October decided to hold the bodies of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks on Israeli military and civilians. Several have since been returned, and handovers of the bodies of Palestinians killed this month have been near-immediate.

Also Suleiman Shahin, a Palestinian attorney, says he has obtained a written pledge from an Israeli court to return an additional 119 bodies, including residents of Bethlehem, who “have been kept by Israel for lengthy periods of time,” according to the report.

So if Israel has retained custody of so many Palestinian bodies over time, the question is where are the cadavers being stored? Most likely in what are referred to as “cemeteries of numbers,” graveyards where the dead are identified by number only and where no inscription containing the name of the deceased can be found on any of the graves. This was discussed in an article by Palestinian writer Reham Alhelsi that was published back in 2012. Here is some of what she has to say on the subject:

The Zionist entity, with its “most moral army in the world”, is the only entity in the world that not only punishes the living for seeking freedom and justice, but punishes the dead as well. This entity of terror tries and imprisons Palestinian martyrs, withholds their bodies and uses them as a bargaining chip. Some Martyrs are held captive in the morgues while others are buried in what is known as the “Cemeteries of Numbers”, which are secret cemeteries in closed military areas with bare graves surrounded by stones, and each grave has only a number for identification on a metal plate. The graves are not deep enough and the bodies are buried in shallow sandy areas making them an easy prey to land erosions and stray animals. There are no tomb stones, no names, only numbers given to the humans who have names, homes and families.

Alhelsi goes on to report that four such cemeteries have been identified:

  1. A cemetery located near the Banat Yacoub Bridge in a military area bordering Lebanon and Syria. Allegedly it contains approximately 500 graves of Palestinians and Lebanese killed in 1982 and onward.
  2. A cemetery located in a closed military area between Jericho and Adam Bridge on the Jordan River. It is surrounded by a wall with an iron gate and a billboard inscribed “A Cemetery for the Dead of the Enemy”. It contains more than 100 graves bearing numbers from 5003 to 5007. It is unknown whether these are serial numbers assigned to individuals or, as Israel claims, administrative codes unrelated to the real number of buried bodies.
  3. The Cemetery of Refedeem in the Jordan Valley. No details unavailable.
  4. The Cemetery of Shuheitar, located near Wadi Al Hamam, a village north of Galilee. Most of the bodies in this cemetery belong to victims killed in the Jordan Valley in the years 1965 to 1975. In the north side of this cemetery, 30 graves are divided between two rows, while the remaining 20 are situated in the central area. Shamefully, all these graves are sandy and shallow, which when exposed to rain, allows bodies to be vulnerable and dragged by stray animals.

What would be the explanation for Israel’s desire to have the bodies in these cemeteries identified by number only? Is it to try and conceal the crime of organ harvesting in the event a new scandal should erupt? That’s a possibility, certainly, but my guess is it might also have something to do with the Judaic curse known as yimakh shemo, or “may his name be obliterated.” The curse is believed to date back to the origins of Purim, the story told in the Book of Esther, although there is also a passage in Deuteronomy in which the ancient Israelites are instructed to “blot out all memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Deuteronomy 25:19).

Did one or more rabbis in Israel appeal to the government to “blot out the names” of all Palestinians killed while resisting the occupation? Hard to say for sure, but one slightly strange thing made note of by Alhelsi is the rather curious manner in which the Israelis seem to have merged the concepts of “death” and “detention.” Again, keep in mind her article was published back in 2012:

These martyrs were kidnapped after their death and their bodies held captive ever since. Many have been in captivity since decades, such as martyr Ali al-Ja’fari from Dheisheh refugee camp, who was killed while in Israeli detention during the Nafhah hunger strike in 1980. Some of the martyrs were “tried” after their death and “are serving their sentences”, such as martyr Mohammad Al-Mansi whose family was told that their dead son was sentenced to 14 years in jail. Other martyrs are imprisoned for no reason, families speculate because the bodies of their children show signs of execution and are withheld to conceal that or to hide the organ theft operations the Israeli army has been conducting for decades on Palestinian martyrs. Family members are either asked to identify the martyr but not allowed to take the body back home or are informed by the IOF that their child is dead and is kept in “detention”. This immoral violation is meant as a punishment, not only for the dead, but as a collective punishment for families who are not given the chance to say goodbye or cry at the tomb of their beloved one. These “Cemeteries of Numbers” represent the disrespect the Zionist entity has to all known humane values and principles. But it is not only the Zionist entity that is the criminal here, but the so-called free world that talks continuously of human rights and of human dignity but is blind and deaf to the immoral actions of the immoral Zionist entity. The martyrs must be respected and laid to rest in a dignified manner, not be held captive in their own homeland, and the families must be able to mourn their children and give them a decent burial.

At least 300 Palestinian martyrs are held captive in these cemeteries and morgues (list).

“Our demand to return the bodies of the martyrs to their families is humane, and activities will continue until our demand is achieved,” said Ahmad Dabash, the committee member whose brother’s body has never been returned.

The committee’s activities are expected to include the setting up of a permanent protest tent as well as the printing up of posters of Palestinians who have killed and whose bodies have not been returned.


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