Jerusalem - "We have always demanded the release of Palestinian political prisoners; it is hard to imagine that we are now forced to demand the release of Palestinian corpses too," muttered Khaled Manasra, the father of Hassan Manasra, whose body has been withheld by Israel since last October.
Hassan, a 15-year-old tenth grader from the neighbourhood of Beit Hanina in occupied East Jerusalem, was killed by Israeli police after allegedly trying to stab Israeli teenagers along with his cousin, Ahmed Manasra. While Ahmed languishes behind bars after enduring severe interrogation, Hassan's body sits in an Israeli morgue.
"I'm not even calling for investigation into my son's killing. All I'm asking for is the right to bury my son in peace, without restrictions," Khaled told Al Jazeera. "If Israeli courts were indeed concerned with achieving justice, they would have ordered the release of my son's body immediately."
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To quell the unrest engulfing Jerusalem and much of the occupied West Bank last October, the Israeli security cabinet approved a series of repressive measures, including punitive home demolitions of families of suspected Palestinian assailants and the withholding of their bodies.
The decision revived a decades-long Israeli policy, unofficially halted in 2004, of withholding bodies of suspected Palestinian attackers. The Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center said that in recent decades, at least 268 Palestinian combatants had been buried in so-called "cemeteries of numbers", designated by Israel as closed military zones. The Palestinians buried there are identified by numbers etched on metal plates.
|Mohammed Allyan, 61, pictured at the recent hearing, says he never counted on the Israeli courts to bring justice [Ursula Haene/Al Jazeera]
"When Israel withholds the body of a slain Palestinian, it kind of kills him twice," Salwa Hammad, coordinator of the Palestinian National Campaign to Retrieve Martyrs' Bodies, told Al Jazeera. "It is impossible to overestimate the psychological impact this [has] on the families, who are deprived of bidding their loved ones a final goodbye."
Last November, Israeli defence minister Moshe Yaalon denied that the purpose of withholding bodies was to punish families, and promised the bodies would be released if families met certain conditions, including to hold "modest" and "private" funerals, with a limited number of attendees and ceremonies held late at night, ostensibly to deter protests and clashes.
Since October, Israel has withheld more than 85 Palestinian bodies, Hammad said, but most have been gradually released amid mass protests. Fifteen bodies remain in Israeli morgues, including 11 belonging to youths who hold Jerusalem residency. Palestinian human rights groups Addameer and Adalah have issued a petition challenging the legality of Israel's policy in this regard.
"Withholding the bodies constitutes a flagrant violation of international law, but Israel legitimises it under the guise of security," Mohammad Mahmoud, a lawyer with Addameer, told Al Jazeera.
Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly ordered his defence minister not to release the bodies until further notice. A hearing to discuss the petition from Addameer and Adalah was held at Israel's high court last week, but the verdict was postponed until after the Passover holidays. The delay has done little to comfort Palestinian families or alleviate their suffering.
I am still waiting to kiss him for one last time, to tell him how much we all miss him, to give him warmth.
"I am still waiting to kiss him for one last time, to tell him how much we all miss him, to give him warmth," Hanan Abu Kharroub, the mother of Abdel Malik Abu Kharroub, told Al Jazeera.
Abdel Malik, a resident of Kufr Aqab who worked as a plumber and was eventually planning to study law, was killed on March 9 after allegedly shooting an Israeli soldier in Jerusalem's Old City.
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Meanwhile, lawyer and father Mohammed Allyan, 61, says he never counted on the Israeli courts to bring justice.
"We submitted the petition not out of faith in the Israeli legal system, but because we wanted to draw greater attention to the case of withheld bodies," Allyan told Al Jazeera.
Allyan's own son, Bahaa, was killed on October 13, 2015, shot dead by Israeli police after an alleged stabbing and shooting attack on a bus in a Jewish settlement built on the lands of Jabal Mukaber in occupied East Jerusalem. Bahaa's body had been withheld ever since.
A graphic designer and local Scout leader, Bahaa was strongly involved in community organising, promoting cultural activities and reinforcing Palestinian identity. Israeli occupation forces demolished the Allyans' home at the start of this year in retaliation for Bahaa's alleged attack.
Despite his desperate need to bury his son, Mohammed has rejected the conditions imposed by the Israeli intelligence agency, the Shin Bet.
"I will not agree to limiting the number of participants in his funeral. I want to bury him in broad daylight, and I want to conduct an autopsy on his body," Mohammed said, lamenting the lack of support from the Palestinian Authority, whom he believes has largely ignored the plight of these families.
"The case of withheld bodies is not the private battle of their families," Mohammed said. "We need the support of all sectors of the Palestinian society to remain steadfast."
Source: Al Jazeera