cemetery for enemy combatants
The cemetery for enemy combatants. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
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Following the release of Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, 29 Palestinian women have demanded Israel return bodies of their family members currently in Israel's possession.

Since 1967, Israel has held about 180 bodies of Palestinians killed in various clashes, and those of suicide bombers. Most of the bodies are held in a cemetery for enemy combatants, near Adam Bridge in the Jordan Valley.

A decade ago, a number of families petitioned the High Court of Justice demanding the return of Palestinian bodies. At first the state agreed, subject to an identification process. But after Shalit was abducted to the Gaza Strip, the state changed its stance and said the bodies would not be returned for they were bargaining chips in the negotiations for the soldier's release.

In July, the bodies caused a minor storm after the Palestinian Authority announced it had reached an agreement with Israel to release the bodies as a gesture for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Israel succumbed to pressure of criticism over the impending gesture and cancelled the bodies' return.

Now, following Shalit's release, 29 families have united to demand the return of those bodies. The names on the list that stand out are brothers Awad and Imad Awadallah, who were the heads of the Hamas military wing in the West Bank and were assassinated in 1998.

The families wrote to the Israel Defense Forces with the assistance of Sigi Ben Ari, a lawyer with the human rights organization Hamoked - Center for the Defense of the Individual, saying "With the changes in circumstances arising out of Gilad Shalit's return home, we are turning to you with a request to speedily complete the proceedings of the transfer to the bosom of the families. Immediate action must be taken to bring this painful matter to an end after many years of waiting.