Israel has admitted that it lost the remains of seven Palestinians who carried out acts of terror during the second intifada. The admission came in a response by the State Prosecutor’s Office to petitions filed in the High Court of Justice by the individuals’ families, demanding the return of the bodies.
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Presumably, the number of people whose burial places are unknown is actually far higher: At a High Court session last month, prosecutors said that of 123 requests submitted by Palestinian families up to 2015 and included in a different petition, only two bodies had been located. A number of Israeli legal and military officials say they believe the state has no information about the whereabouts of many of the bodies. In a few cases, the remains had been in Israel’s possession since the 1990s.
It also emerged that despite the partial information about the burial of the bodies of Palestinians involved in terror attacks, as revealed by previous High Court petitions, the government has not yet decided which agency will be assigned to coordinate the matter. Figures in the Justice Ministry and in the Prime Minister’s Office have been discussing the issue for some months.
“The truth must be told: The traces of some of the bodies have been lost,” said a senior Justice Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity. He added that the search for the missing remains, which began only recently, is still going on. “The task right now is to sit all the officials down and decide who’s in charge.”
Another Justice Ministry official, who also requested anonymity, said, “Now we have to understand who carried out the other burials [those of the missing remains] – a few companies working for the National Insurance Institute that were involved in the burials, or the police.” In at least one case, they will have a hard time, as one company went out of business a few years ago and the documents relating to the identity of the interred were shredded.
“For many years in the 90s, the atmosphere was different. Less importance was attributed to questions of who we put in the ground and how could we identify them in the future,” another source said.
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Dalia Kirshstein, director of the Center for the Defense of the Individual said: “Every smashed Jewish gravestone around the world raises a hue and a cry in Israel, but when it comes to dozens of bodies of Palestinians that disappeared, there’s complete silence. We hope the state will take responsibility and locate the bodies. We are sure it’s possible.”
The Israel Defense Forces responded: “From checks we have made so far, among all the bodies of the terrorists whose families asked be returned in the framework of High Court petitions, only a few were buried by the IDF. These were buried in cemeteries for enemy fallen, and are documented. As the High Court was informed, coordination of locating all the bodies of terrorists whose return was requested and their identification is being handed by state authorities. The IDF will work in keeping with decisions made in the matter. The bodies will be dealt with according to government directives.”
When asked for its response to this report, the Defense Ministry referred Haaretz to the Justice Ministry. A senior Justice Ministry official said, “After it emerged that there was a big mess in this matter, we are sitting all the agencies down at one table. However, we still don’t have full information.” According to the official, responsibility for the matter will apparently be taken either by the Prime Minister’s Office or the Justice Ministry. “Some of the bodies have been lost, but we are continuing to look for them and learning lessons for the future,” he said.