Israeli Minister Promoting Bill to Hold Bodies of Terrorists Despite Attorney General's Opposition

The attorney general has come out against the bill, which states that reasonable suspicion of acts of terror or incitement at a funeral is enough to refuse to hand over remains

Paramedics walk with toward Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City after a terror attack took place there, July 14, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is promoting a bill that would allow the police to impose conditions for terrorists’ funerals, and to refuse returning bodies to those unwilling to accept these conditions. The bill will be co-sponsored by Bezalel Smotrich of Habayit Hayehudi and Likud’s Anat Berko.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has expressed opposition to the bill, and therefore Erdan has taken the unusual step of advancing it as a private member's bill rather than one sponsored by the government. The current coalition has already passed laws which the attorney general has publicly opposed, including the so-called Palestinian land-grab law, which retroactively permits the expropriation of private Palestinian land. Last week, another bill opposed by Medelblit, one that would block the police from giving state prosecutors their recommendations at the end of an investigation, passed in a preliminary reading.

Despite that bill’s clear rightist character, it remains unclear whether the coalition will support it.

The funeral of the perpetrators behind the Temple Mount attack in Jerusalem in Umm al-Fahm, July 27, 2017.

With the bill proposed by Erdan, if a police commander has reasonable suspicion that an act of terror, physical harm or expressions of support for terrorism could take place during a funeral, he could impose preconditions for the funeral to take place. If the family is unwilling to accept these conditions, the police will be able to hold the terrorist’s body and refuse to hand it over for burial.

“Terrorists’ funerals have become shows of incitement that encourage people to perpetrate attacks,” said Erdan. “Funerals will take place only if they accept the conditions set by the police.”

During discussions of the bill between the Public Security Ministry and the Justice Ministry, the attorney general raised an objection to the bill’s text, which states that reasonable suspicion is sufficient for a refusal to hand over the body.

Erdan proposed the bill following the attack on Jerusalem's Temple Mount in July, when two Border Police officers were killed by two terrorists from the Israeli Arab city of Umm al-Fahm. The police dictated strict conditions for the funeral, but the families appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled that police does not have the authority to delay the transfer of bodies for burial, and that such authority would need to be explicitly legislated. The police were forced to hand over the bodies. According to Erdan, the bill seeks to correct the existing situation.

On Sunday morning, people close to Erdan said that the changes to the text demanded by Mendelblit would distort the bill's intention. Erdan himself clarified on Twitter that the law is still being discussed at the Justice Ministry. He wrote, “The subject has been under discussion for a long time. What we need is a decision and implementation, not a discussion that weakens the law, to ensure that incitement is prevented at funerals.”

Mohammad Mahmoud, an attorney representing Palestinians from East Jerusalem whose family members' bodies are being held by Israel, said that the bill promoted by the minister is already in effect. According to Mahmoud, the police return the remains of attackers from East Jerusalem under harsh conditions, including the payment of a high fee, a limit on the number of funeral attendees or an approval for the funeral only during late-night hours. “There are still two more bodies being held by the police, and we await the Supreme Court’s decision,” he said.

He referred to the bodies of Misbah Abu Sbeih and Fadi Qunbar. The former perpetrated the shooting that killed two near the Israel Police national headquarters in Jerusalem in October 2016, while the latter killed four soldiers in a car-ramming attack in January 2017.