Israel Police Held Palestinian Murder Victim's Body to Avoid Funeral Riots

For several days, police refused to release the body of an East Jerusalem Arab whose murder is thought to have been racially motivated, until his family agreed to limit the size of his funeral ceremony.

Israel Police delayed the burial of Houssam Aroudi, the East Jersualem resident who was murdered early last Friday morning, by five days. It is believed that Aroudi was killed by Jewish youths.

The 24-year-old resident of Aroudi of Kfar Akab was stabbed to death in the neck on Hillel Street in central Jerusalem. According to members of his family, the motive for the murder was nationalistic and it was carried out by Jews who were looking for an Arab victim.

riot - AP - February 23 2010

Following the murder, two suspects were detained and a gag order was slapped on the details of the investigation. Police refused to release Aroudi's body because they suspected that his funeral would lead to violent outbursts.

Police feared that just as in the case of Samar Sirhan, the Silwan resident who was shot to death by a security officer in September 2010, the funeral would lead to violent disturbances.

The police demanded that the family hold the funeral outside the security perimeter of the graveyard where the victim's family intended to bury his body, which is adjacent to the Temple Mount.

Aroudi's family appealed to the High Court on Tuesday morning. Following the appeal, the two sides agreed to an arrangement under which the funeral would take place at midnight and only a limited number of people would be allowed to attend.

The Aroudi family was forced to agree to a limit of only 20 men and 15 women present while the body was being prepared for burial, and that no more than 50 men attend the funeral ceremony itself.

Lawyer Ella Telavai, who is representing Aroudi's family, said that they were forced to accept the arrangement, as the funeral would otherwise have been delayed for at least another day, until the judges came to a decision.

"We are not satisfied, and don't see this as an honorable agreement, but we have no choice," said Beydoun Abu Rassem, the uncle of the deceased. "The police wanted us to bury him outside of Jerusalem, even though the family has been buried in that graveyard in Jerusalem for the past 100 years."

"It is not fair to our family that they punish us and keep the body," Abu Rassem added. "For Muslims and for everybody, the most important thing is to bury the dead as soon as possible."

"Where does the police get the authority to tell a family who has lost a loved one the location and conditions of their funeral?" asked lawyer Nasreen Alyan of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).

"Why should East Jerusalem residents have to go as far as the High Court of Appeal in order to receive treatment that any other citizen would get from the beginning?" Alyan continued. "It is in circumstances like these that the police should display more sensitivity."

In response, Jerusalem Police said, "Security sources had received concrete intelligence that there were intentions to cause a disturbance. The deceased was declared a martyr by several terror organizations and they intended to cause a disturbance during the funeral."