Israel to Withhold Bodies of Hamas-linked Terrorists, Return Others to Families

After disagreement between Defense Minister Lieberman and army representative in security cabinet meeting, slightly unusual compromise reached according to which Israel will return bodies of Palestinian assailants according to organizational affiliation.

Mourners carry the body of Palestinian assailant Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, who was shot and killed after being wounded last March by an Israeli soldier, during his funeral in Hebron, May 28, 2016.
Mussa Qawasma, Reuters

Israel will withhold the bodies of Palestinian assailants affiliated with Hamas and return the bodies of other assailants to their families, according to a new policy formulated by the security cabinet on Thursday.

The policy was reached following a disagreement on the issue between Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who thoroughly opposed the handing over of bodies, and the Israeli army representative to the meeting, who said the IDF supports returning the bodies to families.

Israel is in possession of the bodies of five Palestinian assailants from the West Bank who were killed while allegedly carrying out attacks in recent months. The cabinet discussion took place as part of the state's formulation of an answer to a High Court appeal filed by the families of some of the assailants, demanding to receive their sons' bodies. The High Court justices asked the state to explain why it isn’t returning the bodies.              

Justice Ministry officials were concerned that the High Court would issue an order compelling the state to hand over the Palestinians' bodies, as it could constitute a precedent that would hamper the defense establishment in the future. Thus, they pressured the ministers to devise a clear policy on the matter, in order to present the High Court with an acceptable answer. 

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 stand 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 to 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 will be presented to the High Court on Friday as the state's position, 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. 

The immediate implication of the decision is that out of the five bodies held by Israel, three belonging to assailants unaffiliated with Hamas will be returned to their families, while the bodies of two Hamas members will be held by Israel.