Israel's Top Court Rules Body of Palestinian Won’t Be Returned to Family

Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf
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Ahmad Erekat.
Ahmad Erekat.
Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf

Israel’s High Court of Justice on Wednesday denied an appeal seeking the release of the body of Palestinian Ahmad Erekat, which has been held by the government for more than a year.

Erekat, aged 26, was shot to death in June 2020 after the army said he committed a car-ramming attack in Abu Dis in the West Bank.

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The appeal, which was filed by the Erekat family, was denied – despite the fact that his body has been held in violation of a 2017 security cabinet decision that was in force at the time of the incident involving Erekat. 

Under that decision, only the bodies of Hamas militants who committed attacks, or others who committed an exceptionally brutal attack, could be held. However, three months after the appeal was submitted to the court, the cabinet decision was amended to include the bodies of any Palestinian engaged in any terror activity and/or in possession of a weapon regardless of his or her affiliation.

The High Court decision was supported by two justices –  Neal Hendel and David Mintz. Hendel wrote in the majority opinion that the revised cabinet decision “grants a greater weight to security considerations or the exchange of prisoners over the dignity of the dead terrorist and his family, but I was not convinced that the military commander's decision to retain the body of the late Erekat is –  in the current reality –  beyond the bounds of reasonableness and proportionality.”

Israel claimed that Erekat – nephew of the late Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians’ senior diplomatic negotiator – was shot to death because he threatened the lives of the border policemen at the checkpoint. An investigative report published this February by the London-based Forensic Architecture organization, in conjunction with the Ramallah-based human rights group Al-Haq, cast doubt on this, with its reconstruction showing that the vehicle was traveling at a speed of 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) an hour and never accelerated. 

Reacting to the High Court decision, lawyers Sawsan Zaher and Hassan Jabareen of the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, who represent the family, called the Israeli policy an inhumane and a blatant violation of international law.

Israel “should immediately return the dozens of bodies that it is holding,” they demanded. “Today the High Court of Justice has approved the continued commission of this war crime, which among other things violates the Rome Statute that permits putting those responsible for it to be tried at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.”

According to Adalah, Israel has been holding the bodies of 81 Palestinians since 2015. Government representatives who appeared in March at a High Court hearing on the case, told the court that since the new decision of the security cabinet, the grounds for continuing to hold 31 of the bodies in accordance with the new criteria was being reexamined. It has since been decided that 10 of the bodies are from cases that meet the new criteria. The other 21 cases are still under consideration.

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