People and Politics / Not Only Hezbollah Abuses Bereaved Families

The pain suffered by the parents of the missing soldiers from the battle of Sultan Yaqub who probably won't ever be able to visit their sons' grave, like the Israeli government's readiness to trade hundreds of Arab prisoners for the bodies of the kidnapped soldiers from Mt. Dov, is a reminder of the importance Israeli society puts on respect for the dead and the mourning of bereaved families.

Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar
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Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar

The pain suffered by the parents of the missing soldiers from the battle of Sultan Yaqub who probably won't ever be able to visit their sons' grave, like the Israeli government's readiness to trade hundreds of Arab prisoners for the bodies of the kidnapped soldiers from Mt. Dov, is a reminder of the importance Israeli society puts on respect for the dead and the mourning of bereaved families.

From the justified anger at Sheikh Nasrallah, who tortured the families for years by not releasing information, it should have been understood - and hoped - that Israel behaves with much more compassion toward the families of Arab casualties.

"Respect for human dignity means respect for the deceased and the desire to see the person properly buried is natural and self-evident by virtue of their humanity," said Supreme Court President Justice Aharon Barak in his ruling in the matter of the petition brought by the family of Mustafa Barakat against the general of the Central Command in the matter of Barakat's burial. "The deceased's family has the right and freedom to see the memory of their loved one be honored in a manner they deem appropriate," Barak wrote in 1992. "They must be given the opportunity to express their feelings toward him in a manner they regard as proper."

But although Justice Barak has ruled that an Arab has an equal right to bring a loved one to burial as does a Jew, dozens of Palestinian families whose loved ones were killed by the Israeli security services did not get the bodies back. According to the International Red Cross and HaMoked, the center for the defense of the individual, at least 76 bodies have been held by Israel since 2001. Four families have petitioned the High Court of Justice on the matter. Nobody knows how many bodies are to be found in mass graves near the Adam Bridge in the Jordan Valley. According to statements made by the army to the court, no records were kept of the bodies buried there until 1972.

Regai Zalah Abu Maiser is one of dozens of Palestinians who vainly tried to retrieve the body of a relative for proper burial. His journey, which began a decade ago in the wake of the "Oslo reconciliation" ended two months ago with a short ruling by three justices: "In light of the state's response, there is no orderly documentation or records regarding the burial of terrorists in the cemetery near the Adam Bridge, where enemy dead were buried until May 1972. With all due sorrow, under those circumstances, it is impossible to find the body of the father of the petitioner."

An examination of the the petition submitted by attorney Andre Rosenthal in the name of Abu Maiser and HaMoked makes it impossible to escape the question of what we would do if Arabs were to behave that way with our dead. Rosenthal says that in November 1995, more than a year after Abu Maiser's first approach to the authorities on the matter, he received a response from the commander of the IDF in Judea and Samaria approving the return of the father's body to the family. Lt. Neta Cohen promised "the return of the body will be coordinated with the Civil Administration in the near future."

More than five years later, in February 2001, and in the wake of a long series of pleas in the matter, a new letter arrived. Lt. Wahabi said "we are not aware of the body and the matter of the bodies is not the IDF's responsibility." He suggested the family turn to the police. Seven months later, the police said that "consultations with other agencies have yielded nothing. We regret that we have no tidings in this matter." In December 2001, the State Attorney's Office told the court that there is information the body might have been buried in a cemetery near Safad. In January 2003, the State Attorney's office said a command-level inquiry reached the conclusion that it would be impossible to locate the body.

In 1999, B'Tselem and HaMoked published a joint special report on the issue of the bodies. The report mentioned Alia Abirija, a 74-year-old Jordanian woman, mother of Issa Zuhara, who was killed in a clash with IDF troops on the Lebanese border in February 1990. She asked for her son's body and in 1992, asked HaMoked for help to find out what happened to it. HaMoked began a series of inquiries, and when nothing turned up, it went to the High Court and due to the court's intervention, the IDF began its own hunt for the body. Eventually, after much deliberation, the state agreed to exhume the body from the grave for enemy combatants near the B'not Ya'acov Bridge. A DNA exam, showed the body dug up was not Issa Zuhara's body. Three years after the petition, the state suddenly announced the IDF had Issa's identity card and that of the terrorist killed with him and that the exhumed body was not connected to the case. The state's representative explained that "the bodies were apparently moved as a result of movement of the earth during the many years that had passed."

In July 1998, samples were taken from three graves, one of which was supposed to be containing Issa. It turned out that after moving from its place, and changing places with its neighbor, the body grew wings and disappeared. The IDF spokesman announced that steps were taken to improve the situation. But up to date information shows that there's no significant change for the better.

Yonah Baumel, the father of missing Zecharia Baumel, says that on several occasions in the past he helped Palestinians who tried to find their missing relatives or to arrange for proper burial for the bodies. With regard to the Zuhara case, Baumel told the Jerusalem weekly Kol Ha'Ir that "I can understand what that poor woman is going through. The doubt is the most destructive thing of all. A Jordanian mother's tears are not less painful than an Israeli mother's."

Leftists at work

When voters on the left ask their MKs where they were when the government sent soldiers to turn the territories into corrals for people, less that 20 MKs will be able to say they did something for the helpless ailing, elderly and babies every day at the checkpoints.

More than a month ago MK Roman Bronfman set up a task force of MKs to monitor the checkpoints. So far, all the MKs from Meretz have joined, as has the "Geneva Camp" - MKs Amram Mitzna, Avraham Burg, Colette Avital, and Yuli Tamir from Labor - as well as Eitan Cabel and Michael Melchior from Labor. The Arab MKs who have joined are Issam Makhoul, Ahmed Tibi, Mohammed Barakeh, Talab al-Sana, Wasal Taha and Jamal Zahalka. Shinui's Reshef Chayne and Etti Levine joined, as did Ilana Cohen from One Nation.

For the first stage, the MKs are focused on friction points between soldiers and the Palestinian population, and providing humanitarian assistance. The next stage involves starting a public campaign to end the policy of suffocation deep inside the West Bank. The MKs are working with human rights groups and field activists and go out for field trips for first-hand views of the situation. The latest trip, last week, was with B'Tselem, and began at the Hawara checkpoint at the southern entrance to Nablus.

It turns out an MK's ID card can open a checkpoint or two. Bronfman's intervention led to the soldiers opening the checkpoint for a dozen Palestinians, including a father with a infant. At the Shavei Shomron checkpoint, the MKs managed to get the checkpoint opened for Palestinian vehicles delayed there for "punitive reasons."

The next time the MKs visit the Nablus area, they should look into what happened to the dozens of residents whose five-story apartment building was demolished on January 22, with all their belongings inside. They are homeless because of Imad Akuba, a wanted man, who is still free. The IDF says the building was destroyed because of precise intelligence information about at least four wanted men involved in planning suicide attacks. The building was evacuated under threat of IDF arms, and during it, soldiers threw two bombs. Three of the wanted men, Tanzim activists, came out with the residents. Akuba was not among them. The IDF Spokesman said that the deaths of several soldiers in recent years "proves that going into a building significantly increases risks to the soldiers, but the extent of the environmental damage is a decisive factor in determining the demolition method."

And who will compensate the innocent residents of the apartment building for their lost homes and possessions? According to the army, international law does not require the army to pay compensation for damage done during combat. Nonetheless, each case is judged on its own merits.

Israel Prize for anti-Semitism

Does a transfer-promoting rabbi hate goyim with anti-Semitic pasts? Not necessarily. Moledet leader Rabbi Benny Elon's love for the Christian evangelists is so great that this week he granted a prize to their leader, Pat Robertson. Tourism Minister Elon, Israel's representative, used another visit to the U.S. on ministry business (the opening of an international tourism exhibition) and in the midst of a tense election campaign there visited a bastion of Republican support, the annual conference for evangelist media professionals. Elon gave Robertson a prize for his support for Israel in these difficult times.

Robert's best-seller, The New World Order, won't win him the Israel Prize for Literature. But he does star in a black book distributed by the Anti-Defamation League in 1994, as a result of the publication of Robertson's book. ADL executive director Abe Foxman, who is known as a close friend of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, accused the evangelist preacher of spreading poisonous anti-Semitic hatred, and demanded a clarification and apology.

According to Roberston's book, there's a secret conspiracy known as the "Illuminati" founded in Europe at the end of the 18th century. It took over the Free Masons and worked with the Rothschild family in Frankfurt to advance a devilish plan to bring down the French royal court and impose a regime of "revolutionary terror." The plot was meant to serve the interests of "world banking," a euphemism in certain circles for Jewish bankers.

Robertson, much beloved by Elon, writes that a few decades later the secret conspiracy recruited Zionist-Socialist Moshe Hess to write the Communist Manifesto for Marx and Engels, on the way to the Russian Revolution. Hess, like other Jews referred to by Robertson is identified as "a person of European-German descent." Robertson says in his book that the conspiracy sent bankers Paul Warburg and Jacob Schiff to America around the same time. They also arranged for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, to impose a federal bank on America and smash the American economy. Since then, according to Robertson, the Illuminati encourage conflicts and empty the state coffers in many countries, on their way to taking over the world. Presidents Wilson, Carter and Bush have all been instruments in the hands of the secret gang, which for the sake of its greed mongered the Gulf War.