Knesset Panel Allows Police to Hold on to Bodies of Terrorists

Proposed amendment would bypass a High Court ruling allowing bodies to be returned to families for burial, and would set limits on funerals

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Mourners carry the body of Palestinian Sara Tarayra Hjoj, who according to the Israeli army was shot dead by Israel Police after she tried to stab one of them six months beforehand, after her body was released for a funeral, near Hebron, December 17, 2016.
The December 17, 2016 funeral of Palestinian Sara Tarayra Hjoj, shot dead six months earlier by Israel Police, who charged that she'd stabbed an officer. The police delayed the return of her body. Credit: Mussa Qawasma/Reuters
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The police will be able to hold onto the bodies of terrorists and not hand them over to the families for burial, according to an amendment approved Tuesday morning by the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee. In addition, the police would be allowed to determine the conditions under which the funerals for terrorists are held. The proposal will now be sent to the full Knesset for final approval.

The amendment, sponsored by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, follows a ruling by the High Court of Justice in July, 2017 that forbid the state from keeping the bodies of terrorists involved in an incident on the Temple Mount for the purpose of negotiations with the Palestinians, because there was no specific, explicit legal basis permitting the state to do so.

Specifically, the emendation to the existing anti-terrorism law states that the Israel Police may issue an order to postpone the handing over of a terrorist’s body until those organizing the funeral promise to meet the conditions set by the police. In addition, the police would be allowed to delay transfer of the body if it deems that the holding of the funeral could lead to a loss of life or injury, incitement to terrorism, or general expressions of identification with the terrorist and his actions.

Among the conditions the police will be able to impose, as per the new proposal, are a limit on the number of participants at the funeral and a ban on certain individuals' participation. Moreover, the police would be permitted to set the route for the funeral procession and the time of the event, and even, in special cases, to determine burial site. The police would also be allowed to demand the posting of a bond to guarantee that certain conditions are carried out.

Erdan explained on Tuesday that, “The funerals of terrorists will no longer turn into a rally in support of terrorism.” The government must work quickly, he added, to assert its authority to hold onto the bodies to prevent incitement.

The public security minister originally proposed the amendment following the attack on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount in July 2017, when two Border Police officers were killed by three terrorists from the Israeli Arab city of Umm al-Fahm, in northern Israel. The police dictated strict conditions for the funerals, but the families appealed to the High Court. It ruled that the police did not have the authority to delay the transfer of bodies for burial, and that such authority would need to be explicitly legislated. In that case, the police were forced to hand over the bodies.