A Grave Error: Woman Sues After Finding Stranger Buried in Her Plot

A Kiryat Malakhi woman has filed suit with the Ashdod Magistrate's Court seeking the immediate removal of a corpse that was mistakenly interred in a burial plot alongside her deceased husband and which she purchased years ago.

Yamna Shushan, the woman who filed the suit several days ago, is citing purchase and property rights in her argument before the court, which will have to weigh whether to order the removal of the remains currently occupying the plot. Shushan is also demanding NIS 50,000 in compensation for mental anguish.

The hevra kadisha religious burial society offered Shushan an alternative plot site not far from her husband, but she is steadfast in demanding to be buried in the spot for which she paid.

Officials at the Kiryat Malakhi religious council which oversees burial arrangements acknowledged that registration errors led them to believe that the reserved plot was available.

Shushan, 77, paid NIS 4,000 for the burial plot next to that of her husband in the Kiryat Malakhi cemetery 11 years ago. As a pensioner who spent 30 years working in a leather processing factory, Shushan scraped together the cash, which she paid in installments to the hevra kadisha.

In the lawsuit filed with the court, Shushan's attorney, Shirley Reif Shoshan, writes that her client discovered that another person had been interred in the burial plot when she went to visit the cemetery last summer.

Shoshan argues that while Jewish law forbids the removal of buried remains, there are extraordinary instances in which halacha permits such a relocation.

The lawsuit claims that Shushan's property rights have been violated, and that the burial of another individual in her burial plot constitutes an infringement on the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.

"They hurt me badly," Shushan said, "and I hope that the court will exact justice. I am not prepared to give up my burial spot, it is mine. Why is it that people here have to fight for a grave that belongs to them?"

Rabbi Yehuda Sheetrit, who heads the Kiryat Malakhi religious council, said that the mishap was an honest mistake explained by an error in the cemetery's plot registry. Sheetrit said that the deceased woman whose remains are interred in Shushan's plot was buried there because the site also lies next to the graves of her family.

Sheetrit said the council offered an alternative burial site just 30 centimeters away from her husband, but Shushan refused. He added that only a court decision could compel the burial society to relocate the woman's remains.

The Anglican bishop in Israel, Suheil Dawani, petitioned the Jerusalem District Court yesterday demanding that Interior Minister Eli Yishai return his visa, which was confiscated after it was discovered that he sold land to Palestinians.

Six months ago, Dawani, who has served as the top Anglican official in Israel since 2007, was informed that the Interior Ministry had canceled his visa and that he would be deported from the country.

In the lawsuit, Dawani's attorneys note that the Anglican Church has 90 million followers, among them U.S. President Barack Obama, former president George H.W. Bush, and former vice president Dick Cheney. Dawani is also an official emissary of the queen of England, who holds the official title of head of the Anglican Church. By dint of his position, Dawani is a frequent guest at official state ceremonies, according to the lawsuit.

Last August, the Interior Ministry informed Dawani that it would not renew his visa. In a letter addressed to Dawani, the ministry stated: "[Dawani] acted in concert with the Palestinian Authority by fraudulently selling land owned by Jews to Palestinians - thus being complicit in falsely registering Jewish-owned land as land belong to the church."

Dawani has denied that he was personally involved in any real estate transactions. "During his tenure, there were no land deals," said his attorney, Rhanan Har-Zahav. "This is something that is very easy to prove, since there are no documents that would indicate such deals took place."

"I have written to the attorney general and I asked that before an individual of such stature is deported, we should at least give him the opportunity to present his side," Har-Zahav said. "Yet even this was not granted to him. Nobody bothered to get back to me."

According to the lawsuit, the Interior Ministry's decision "undermines the longstanding tradition which grants clerics who live in Jerusalem a special status in the eyes of Israeli justice. This decision [to deport Dawani] is a grave, serious act that strips the bishop of his ability to carry out his functions while harming the church and its devotees, not to mention the image of the state of Israel and its foreign relations."

The case has attracted the attention of the Episcopal Church's bishop in Washington, John Bryson Chane, who protested the Interior Ministry's decision during a meeting with Israel's ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren.

Bryson Chane and the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Katherine Jefferts Schori, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging him to renew Dawani's visa. A copy of the letter was forwarded to Obama. As of last night, Netanyahu had yet to reply.

"This is a sensitive issue that came before the interior minister and our detailed reply will be given in court as part of the petition that was filed," the Interior Ministry said in a statement.