People Not Numbers: Some Palestinian Martyrs Regain Dignity in Death

Photo : a Palestinian woman carries the remains of her brother

The Palestinian Authority (PA) Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein Al-Sheikh reported that Israel has handed over the remains of 91 Palestinians buried for decades in the “Numbers Graveyard.”

Rather than accord the remains the dignity of burial with the names of the deceased on their grave, Israel buried these fallen Palestinian, Lebanese and Arab fighters with only a number.

Such a practice is considered a violation of international and human rights law. International law requires the occupying power to hand the bodies of dead to their relatives, and to guarantee their burial according to their religion and traditions.

Israel is one of very few western states that punishes the bodies of dead. In addition to the above breaches, Isreal buries Palestinians in holes less than 50cm deep, which makes it easy for animals and birds to eat their flesh.

Article 130 of the Geneva Convention states that the graves of the dead must be respected, properly maintained, and marked in such a way that they can always be recognized.

The first Additional Protocol of the Geneva Conventions Art 34. Remains of deceased guarantees the same for the remains of persons who have died for reasons related to occupation, or in detention resulting from occupation or hostilities, as well as access to the gravesites by relatives of the deceased – which has not occurred.

It also requires that Israel “…facilitate the return of the remains of the deceased and of personal effects to the home country upon its request or, unless that country objects, upon the request of the next of kin.

79 sets of remains of people who died between the 1960s and 1990s have today been sent to the West Bank, and 11 to Gaza, with ceremonies to honour them held in both locations.

Al-Sheikh said that the remains will be subjected to DNA analysis before being handed over to the families.

The return of these Palestinians’ remains re-opens old wounds, as families once again remember the tragedy of losing their loved ones.

In addition, many families continue to suffer as Israel is still withholding an unknown number of remains of Arabs and Palestinians.

Whilst today’s return of Palestinian martyrs is a welcome first step towards meeting at least some of its obligations to treat the dead with dignity, the international community is urged to pressure Israel to guarantee the return of ALL Palestinian martyrs, in accordance with international law.

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