In Israel, the punishment of living Palestinians is not enough; its persecution and collective punishment extends to the dead, too. As outlined in a study by researcher Fairouz Salameh published by the Institute for Palestine Studies in the summer of 2022, “Israel has been adopting, for a long time, a policy of punishing Palestinian martyrs and their families by detaining their corpses, either in numbered cemeteries or in morgue refrigerators.”
According to an official report by the Palestinian Ministry of Information on April 18, 2022, as well as claims from the families of some of the dead, the Israeli occupation detains “the bodies of 104 martyrs in refrigerators, and 256 martyrs in numbered cemeteries.” In the four-month period between the start of 2022 and the publishing of this report, Israel detained the bodies of 13 additional Palestinians.
Israel's punishment of living Palestinians is not enough; its persecution and collective punishment extends to the dead, too. “Israel has a policy of punishing Palestinian martyrs by detaining their corpses in secret cemeteries” and by stealing their organs
The issue of organ theft, previously largely unknown to many, has gained public traction. In the aftermath of October 7 and the genocide we are watching unfold on live television, we are aware of the horrifying present being written before our eyes. We wipe away the shame and guilt we feel for all the things we previously did not know, and we force ourselves to tune into our television screens, and face the daily reality of many Palestinians.
I had not heard about the issue of Palestinian martyrs being kept in Israeli morgues, an ongoing and decades-long practice, until Mustafa Barghouti, Secretary-General of the Palestinian National Initiative, discussed it on television. Barghouti was trying to explain to the world the ABCs of humanity, urging people to stop turning a blind eye.
In a study by researcher Ghazal al-Natour published by the Palestinian NGO Masarat, it is argued that the occupation uses detention as a means of punishing and pressuring the families of martyrs. The occupation holds families accountable for the actions of their children, and makes an example of them; relatives of the deceased or imprisoned are persecuted, subject to their homes being demolished, arrested, displaced from their homes, and security measures against them are intensified. The occupation also uses detention as a bargaining chip for potential prisoner exchange deals with Hamas.
Israel holds families accountable for the actions of their children. Relatives of the deceased or imprisoned are persecuted, subjected to arrest, their homes demolished and intensified security measures.
The cycle of violence and oppression that the Palestinian prisoner is subjected to, from the moment of arrest, to the torture and daily suffering in prison, continues even after their death. Palestinian prisoners are denied the right to freedom even in death.
Not only does Israel follow a policy of detaining the bodies of Palestinian prisoners, it has systematically stolen their organs. Organ theft started in 1948, and has persisted throughout history: during the 1967 war, to the first and second Palestinian Intifada, where Israel, self-proclaimed global leader in the human organ trade, according to Haaretz, used these bodies in bargaining and negotiation operations.
The cycle of violence and oppression that the Palestinian prisoner is subjected to, from the moment of arrest, to the torture and daily suffering in prison, continues even after their death. Palestinian prisoners are denied the right to freedom even in death
In a report by Vice, it is claimed that there are secret graves, or numbered cemeteries, where the bodies of Palestinians are buried irregularly and at a depth of no more than 50 centimeters. Due to their shallow depth, these graves were susceptible to inclement weather and bodies were exhumed by stray dogs. Only after a military order in 1976 did Israel disclose the graves, return personal belongings, and mark and number each body.
In the years following the Oslo Accord of 1993, Israeli and foreign media sources have revealed the existence of four numbered cemeteries. One such cemetery, located in a military area between the Israeli-Syrian and Lebanese borders, contains the graves of around Palestinians and Lebanese, most of whom died in the 1982 war. Another numbered cemetery can be found in a closed military area between Jericho and the Damiya Bridge in the Jordan Valley. This cemetery holds over a hundred graves, numbered 5003 to 5107. It is unknown whether these numbers are sequential, or merely administrative signs and codes.
There is no legal basis or justification for detaining corpses. One of Israel's goals is to exert pressure on the Palestinians as a form of continued and collective punishment, and to prevent the dead from becoming seen as a martyr, or a symbol of resistance
At the Rivideem cemetery in the Jordan Valley, and the Shahita cemetery in the village of Wadi al-Hammam north of Tiberias, the majority of bodies were buried between 1965 and 1975. In the northern part of Shahita, about 30 tombs are scattered along two long rows, and around 20 tombs are located in its center.
There is no legal basis or justification for detaining corpses. One goal is to prevent the dead from becoming deemed a martyr, or a symbol of resistance. Additionally, corpses are detained to exert pressure on the family of the dead and as a form of continued and collective punishment. Since Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas in 2006, was released in 2011 in exchange for over a thousand Palestinian prisoners, the practice of detaining corpses has become a widely used political and negotiation tool.
Since Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas in 2006, was released in 2011 in exchange for over a thousand Palestinian prisoners, the practice of detaining corpses has become a widely used political and negotiation tool.
In 2019, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that military commanders have the authority to detain the bodies of dead Palestinians and temporarily bury them, until they are needed for future political negotiations or prisoner exchanges. Although the Israeli judicial system is supposed to be independent of political authority, cases involving Palestinians appear to serve the interests of both the political and security establishments.
The detaining of the corpses of dead prisoners reflects the structure of the entire colonial system (legislative, executive, and judicial), and seeks to transform the deaths of imprisoned Palestinians into ceaseless, continuous death. The occupation continues to detain the dead in morgues, refrigerators and numbered cemeteries, seeking their posthumous retribution and torturing their families in the process, by depriving them of final farewells and a proper burial.
Yehuda Hiss, former director of the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute in Israel, acknowledged the organ theft from Palestinian bodies that took place between the first and second Intafadas, under the approval and protection of Israeli law.
In late 2020, Benny Gantz, then-Israeli Defense Minister, proposed a policy of withholding the bodies of any Palestinian deemed a terrorist. The Knesset approved the proposal, and pressed for legislation authorizing occupation police to detain the bodies of martyrs.
Yehuda Hiss, former director of the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute in Israel, acknowledged the organ theft from Palestinian bodies that took place between the first and second Intafadas, under the approval and protection of Israeli law. Aftonbladet, a Swedish publication, accused the Abu Kabir Institute in Tel Aviv of stealing and trafficking organs through illegal international companies. Additionally, a 2008 report by CNN implicated Israel in the kidnapping and killing of Palestinians for the purpose of stealing their organs.
* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22
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