Court Rejects Petitions Demanding IDF Not Remove Jenin Dead

A panel of three High Court justices rejected three petitions Sunday demanding that the IDF be barred from moving out the bodies of dead Palestinians from the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. Prior to the ruling, an understanding was reached between the IDF and the petitioners regarding the manner of removing the bodies, according to which no bodies will be buried in a special cemetery in the Jordan Valley.

This was one of the demands of the petitioners after Ha'aretz reported Friday that the IDF intended to only hand over the bodies of civilians, while those identified as terrorists, or armed Palestinians, would be buried in the Jordan Valley cemetery.

The State did not confirm the report in the legal hearing, but Itim news service reported that IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz confirmed Sunday morning that the army had intended to bury the bodies in the special cemetery.

The three justices - Shlomo Levin, Yitzhak Engelrad, and Asher Grunis - accepted the state's position that the house demolitions were part of "effective combat operations in which sometimes harm is inexorably done to residences, when these homes serve as bunkers from which the IDF is shot at." Therefore, said the court, the court's "power to intervene in ongoing operations with judicial criticism is limited. Indeed, these are not ordinary, static conditions, in which people interested in objecting to the operation are given early warning before their property is damaged."

The High Court issued an interim order Friday blocking the removal of the bodies, after petitions were filed by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, LAW (The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment).

MKs Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash) and MK Ahmed Tibi (Ta'al-Arab Movement for Renewal) also filed similar petitions following Friday's report.

The petitioners claimed the army's decision violates international law as the Jordan Valley cemetery will, they claim, be basically a mass grave, thus damaging the honor of the dead.

In light of the court's decision, issued by Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, the IDF stopped clearing the bodies from the camp Friday. Some of the bodies had already been removed from the camp Thursday and moved to a site near Jenin, but had not been buried. Others had been buried by Palestinians while the fighting still raged at the camp, in a mass grave near the hospital on the outskirts of the camp.

MK Avigdor Lieberman (National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu) has called for Justice Barak to be removed from his post following Friday's decision. "Barak's decision is a vulgar and clear interference by the judiciary in the decision of the executive," he told Ha'aretz last night. He said this was not the first time in recent months that Barak had interfered in decisions made by the government at a time of war. Lieberman added, "We must remember that the petitioners are enemies of Israel."

The odious job of combing the Jenin refugee camp for bodies on Friday fell on two companies from the Golani Brigade, along with members of the military rabbinate. The camp, which is about one kilometer square, was divided into four sections, where forces scoured the narrow alleyways and the damaged buildings, neutralizing bombs and looking for weapons, wanted men and dead bodies.

The exact number of Palestinian dead at the camp is still not known. The IDF places the toll between 100 and 200. "The IDF's refusal to bring the dead to a speedy and respectful burial ... is an outrageous act, based on a revengeful attitude devoid of any human emotion, and without any defense justification," said Adalah Staff Attorney Jamil Dakwar.

Chaplain General Israel Weiss was asked to rule Friday whether the soldiers could violate the Sabbath and continue in their collection of the bodies. Weiss allowed the work to continue, ruling that not doing so would put the soldiers at a greater risk since the IDF had announced that it would not withdraw from the camp until the dead had been gathered.

However, the military rabbinate ruled that the bodies could not be buried until after the Sabbath. The High Court's ruling stopped the work altogether.

As of Saturday afternoon, some 23 bodies had been located in the camp, though not removed, with their current location marked on maps. Among the dead were the bodies of two women and a child. A military source said that the other bodies were of armed militants.

The first Israeli reporter was allowed into the camp Saturday, while other journalists are expected to gain access to the camp Sunday. Military sources were critical of the decision not to allow the media into the camp earlier, saying "The world has already formed its opinion and it is too late to change it. They think, wrongly, that we carried out a massacre in the camp."