Israeli Army Chief: Returning Bodies of Terrorists to Their Families Is a Mistake

The Supreme Court is due to revisit a ruling made last year that forbade the state from keeping the bodies of terrorists for negotiation purposes

Palestinians mourners carry the body of Hamza Zamareh, who was killed after he stabbed an Israeli security guard, Halhul, West Bank, February 17, 2018.
Majdi Mohammed/AP

Israel’s practice of returning the bodies of terrorists to their families has been a mistake, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot told the security cabinet Wednesday.

Last Friday, Israel returned the body of Hamza Zamareh, who had been shot to death two weeks ago after stabbing and mildly injuring a security guard near the settlement of Karmei Zur in the West Bank. Thousands attended his funeral in Halhul.

Since then, a fierce debate has been going on in political circles as to whether Zamareh’s body should have been returned or if Israel should have held on to it for negotiating purposes.

Israel currently has the bodies of 11 terrorists in its possession. In nine of the instances, the cases are under discussion at the Supreme Court. The other two are the bodies of Ahmed Nasser Jarrer and Ahmed Ismail Mohammad Jarrer, both members of the cell that shot and killed Rabbi Raziel Shevach near the Havat Gilad settlement in January.

The issue of returning terrorists’ bodies is due to be heard before an expanded panel of justices. On Monday, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut accepted the state’s motion to revisit the ruling that was issued last December, which forbade the state from keeping bodies for negotiating purposes in the absence of a law explicitly permitting it to do so.

The ruling, which was handed down by a majority vote of two justices to one, and now will be reheard by a seven-person bench. Hayut herself will sit on the expanded panel. The case is expected to be heard in June.

Last December, the court gave the state six months to enact a suitable law on the matter. If neglected to do so by the deadline, the decision stated, it would have to return the terrorists’ bodies.

Following that ruling, ministers in the security cabinet said that they rejected the principles set forth in the majority opinion and that Israel would not return the bodies.