Israel Informs High Court It Will Return Seven of 10 Palestinian Assailants' Bodies

The compromise to continue holding three bodies of Hamas-affiliated assailants comes after Defense Minister Lieberman clashes with IDF representative.

Mourners carry the body of of 38-year-old Palestinian Iyad Hamed, 38, during his funeral in Silwad after he was killed by Israeli troops. August 26, 2016.
Abbas Momani, AFP

The Israeli government told the High Court on Friday that the security cabinet had decided to hand over seven out of the ten bodies of Palestinians who carried out terrorist attacks over recent months, so that they may be buried.

The state told the court that it will hand over the bodies to the families of the deceased only if they agree to the Israel Defense Forces' conditions regarding the funerals. The three remaining bodies belong to terrorists affiliated with the Hamas group in Gaza, and thus will not be handed over.

The State Attorney filed its pre-hearing statement to the High Court in response to a petition filed by the relatives of five West Bank assailants, whose bodies are being held by the IDF. The petition asked that the court instruct the state to hand over the bodies, so that they may be buried.   

The statement said that the security cabinet held a long and in-depth discussion on the subject on Wednesday, and that the members decided that, "Already at this stage it is possible to take action and return seven out of 10 bodies discussed in different petitions." However, the return of the bodies would only take place if the families of the assailants agree to all of Israel's demands "which are intended to assure that the funerals don't turn into displays of incitement and support for terrorism."

The response filed by the State Attorney stated that the matter needs to be studied further with regard to the remaining three bodies due to the fact that the three are affiliated with Hamas, as well as the fact that one of the bodies belongs to the terrorist who murdered 13-year-old Hillel Yaffe Ariel in her home in Kiryat Arba last June.

In its response, the state said that the security cabinet is expected to hold another discussion on the matter in order to discuss the different possibilities available for dealing with the bodies. If the security cabinet decides not to hand them over, the statement said, the Attorney General will assess the legality of this decision. The state asked for an additional 60 days to prepare its position regarding the three bodies.

Haaretz reported earlier Friday morning that there had been a disagreement on the issue during the security cabinet meeting between Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who thoroughly opposed handing the bodies over, and the Israeli army representative at the meeting, who said the IDF supports returning the bodies to their families.

According to ministers present at the meeting, who wished to remain nameless due to the sensitivity of the matter, Lieberman expressed his absolute opposition to returning the bodies of Palestinian assailants, saying that this stance would increase deterrence against potential assailants any could reduce the number of attacks.

Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, the army's Operations Directorate head, who was representing the army's position, clarified that the IDF supports returning the bodies of assailants to their families, saying that in its opinion, Israel's holding on to the bodies creates increased tension, doesn’t deter potential assailants and may lead to more attacks.

A minister present at the meeting noted that Lieberman and Alon didn’t clash or argue, but that the completely opposite views they presented caused some uneasiness.

According to the slightly unusual compromise, which was reached in light of divided opinion, the bodies of assailants associated with Hamas will not be returned, while the bodies of assailants unaffiliated with any group, or associated with Fatah or other organizations other than Hamas, will be returned.