Israel Withholding Bodies of Jerusalem Assailants in Unprecedented Move

Hoped-for deterrent effect is cited in response to petition by family of the perpetrators of Tuesday’s attack in a Har Nof synagogue that killed five Israelis.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Israeli emergency personnel at the scene of the Jerusalem terror attack, November 18, 2014.
Israeli emergency personnel at the scene of the Jerusalem terror attack, November 18, 2014.Credit: AFP
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The state won’t release to their families for burial the bodies of the two cousins who carried out the attack on a Jerusalem synagogue on Tuesday in which five Israelis died, in a bid to deter future would-be terrorists, the state told the Jerusalem District Court Wednesday. The state was responding to a request filed by the family of the perpetrators.

This is apparently the first time that Israel has withheld the bodies of terrorists as a deterrent measure.

“We can’t commit to a certain date [for returning the bodies],” Chief Inspector Yigal Elmaliah, who was representing the Israel Police, told the court. “There are two aspects, the investigative aspect, which the court has seen, and another aspect that I’m not sure I’m authorized to report. For this reason we are arguing that this isn’t the forum to discuss it. The State of Israel is trying to cope with the recent wave of attacks. One possibility being considered is not to return the bodies to the families, but [for the state] to bury them. The issue is being examined at the highest levels.”

After each of the recent terror attacks, the bodies of the perpetrators were released to their families after the police completed its examination of the remains. In some cases the police restricted the location of or number of participants in the funerals, on the grounds that the ceremony could occasion more violence, but the latest incident was the first time the state argue against the release of bodies for reasons of security.

“This won’t deter [anyone], it will only cause more tension and more people will do terrible things,” said the family’s lawyer, Muhammad Mahmoud. “No one is justifying what happened yesterday. It’s heartbreaking, but you can’t punish anymore. [The perpetrators] are bodies already.”

Attorneys Sigi Ben-Ari and Andre Rosenthal of the Center for the Defense of the Individual, who have been involved in a number of cases in which terrorists’ bodies were returned to their families, don’t recall a previous instance of the state stating outright that it was withholding bodies as a punishment or deterrent.

“They always raised considerations of bargaining chips, especially in connection to the Gilad Shalit deal, or concerns about rioting during the funeral,” said Ben-Ari. “This seriously undermines respect for the dead and the honor of his relatives. The state doesn’t need to trade in bodies.”

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