[News] Palestinian Mother waits 36 years for Israel to return son’s body
news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Nov 3 11:01:36 EST 2015
Mother waits 36 years for Israel to return son’s body
Budour Youssef Hassan
2 November 2015
For the last 36 years, Raoufa Khattab has refused to believe that her
son Abd al-Rahman is dead until she sees his remains with her own eyes.
“They haven’t returned his body to us, so perhaps he’s alive, perhaps
he’s in jail,” she keeps telling Ahmad, another son.
Ahmad was only 13 when his brother Abd al-Rahman was killed in April
1979 during an armed confrontation with Israeli forces near Bisan, a
town located in the north of present-day Israel.
Abd al-Rahman led a small group of resistance fighters who tried to
carry out an attack against an Israeli military post in the area.
After his killing, his body was transferred to one of Israel’s
“cemeteries of numbers,” where Palestinian combatants are buried in
and are identified only by numbers etched on metal plates. Israel has
designated these cemeteries as closed military zones
With every prisoner exchange between Israel and Palestinian resistance
groups, Abd al-Rahman’s mother would wait for him to be released as if
she was waiting for a living man to get out of jail.
“Through all those years, she has never forgotten him,” Ahmad told The
Electronic Intifada. “And now that she has gotten older and her health
has significantly deteriorated, the very mention of him aggravates her
When television stations came to interview Raoufa in the occupied West
Bank village of Bilin <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/bilin> in
2014, she suffered a mental breakdown and had to remain in bed for two
“Honor his memory”
If Israel’s aim of burying Palestinian fighters in cemeteries of numbers
was to drive their legacy into oblivion, it has largely failed.
Wassim al-Abed only knew his uncle Abd al-Fattah Rimawi from
photographs. He was not yet born when his uncle was believed to have
been killed in 1969. Rimawi, better known by his nom du guerre Abu
Marmar, was a commander of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/plo> Assifa Brigades.
A refugee living in Jordan <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/jordan>,
he was among the first Palestinian paratroopers and secretly returned to
Palestine several times to carry out resistance operations. He is
believed to be buried in the cemetery of numbers but his family has not
been able to confirm that — or whether he is alive or dead.
Abu Marmar’s mother and most of his siblings have died; al-Abed, 37, has
taken on the responsibility of finding and burying his uncle’s body.
“Returning his body and burying it in a known place in his hometown of
Beit Rima is the least we could do to honor his memory,” al-Abed told
The Electronic Intifada, referring to a village north of the West Bank
city of Ramallah <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/ramallah>.
“He has sacrificed greatly for the Palestinian revolution and he
deserves to be buried in dignity. Even if there is very little left of
his remains, returning his body carries a massive symbolic weight,”
While martyrs like Abu Marmar have never been forgotten by their
families, it is only in recent years that the issue of missing bodies
and bodies buried in the cemeteries of numbers been revived.
In August 2008, the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center launched
a national campaign
to return the bodies in cooperation with martyrs’ families. The campaign
sought to reclaim the bodies of martyrs both through legal channels and
public and international pressure.
No less important, however, was that the campaign shed light on some of
the most notorious crimes of the Israeli occupation.
“Since its establishment, the campaign has published two books that
include the names, stories and details of the martyrs whose bodies are
still detained by Israel in addition to information about the cemeteries
of numbers,” Salwa Hammad, a spokesperson for the center, told The
She explained that the campaign holds a national day of action to demand
the return of martyrs’ bodies. It also organizes workshops for families
and encourages them to tell their stories.
According to the center’s data, the number of martyrs who are buried in
the cemeteries of numbers had reached 268 by September this year, in
addition to 19 who were killed in the 2014 attack on Gaza.
“The issue of the detained bodies from Gaza is particularly painful
because not only did the Israeli army commit an atrocious massacre
there, killing more than 2,000 people, but it also kidnapped bodies and
[has] never returned them to be buried in Gaza,” Hammad said.
Israel has recently stated
that the bodies of Palestinians accused of attacks against Israelis will
not be returned to their families.
Israel is still refusing to hand over the bodies of at least 20
Palestinians killed between 8 October and 29 October. They include 10
from the Jerusalem area and 10 from Hebron
Hebron has — so far — witnessed the largest protest to demand the return
of martyrs’ bodies.
Thousands took to the streets there
<http://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=768506> last week to demand
that Israel hand over the bodies of slain Palestinians.
“Israel’s detention of the bodies is not just a form of collective
punishment for the families, it’s also an attempt to conceal evidence of
the summary execution that it carries out against those youth,
preventing Palestinians from conducting autopsies,” Amin al-Bayed, the
Hebron coordinator for the campaign to return martyrs’ bodies, told The
Following the protest in Hebron, Israel agreed to release some of the
Two bodies of people from the Hebron area were returned to their
families on Sunday morning.
Israel refused to hand over five other bodies after families rejected a
condition that they be buried at midnight, according to sources in Hebron.
“Bring Bayan home”
Five other bodies were received
in Hebron on Friday evening.
The remains belonged to five Palestinian teenagers, including that of
Bayan al-Esseili <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/bayan-al-esseili>,
a teenaged schoolgirl executed
by Israeli forces on 17 October.
Ayman al-Esseili spoke to The Electronic Intifada a day before receiving
his daughter’s body.
“Words fail to express my pain. My beloved daughter, the closest person
in the world to me, was taken from me without being able to see her
corpse, touch her clothes or kiss her,” Ayman said.
“Ever since her killing, her mother has been demanding of me to bring
Bayan back home, somehow thinking that Bayan might still be alive but
the army is detaining her,” he said.
“Her three-year-old brother, whom Bayan used to look after and play
with, asks me all the time about her,” Ayman added. “When I tell him
that Bayan has gone to heaven, he tells me that he, too, wants to go to
heaven to see her again. He is convinced that Bayan is at her
grandparents’ place and might be upset with him and so has not returned
Bayan was a bright pupil who had hoped to study political science and
economics at university.
“She was the one who made me my morning coffee every day,” Ayman said.
“She did have a great impact on Palestinian society — but it was not
what we thought it would be. But I’m definitely proud of her.”
“There is nothing harder than seeing pictures of your daughter’s
blood-soaked and bullet-ridden corpse on the mobile phones of soldiers,”
Ayman was detained after his daughter’s slaying; he said he was beaten
and interrogated. When he demanded to see Bayan’s corpse, soldiers
instead showed him a picture of her body after she had been killed.
Forced to wait
Perhaps no one understands Bayan’s father better than Muhammad
al-Akhras. He was forced to wait for nearly 12 years before the remains
of his daughter were returned to him.
On the first day of every Eid, the annual Muslim festivals, the cemetery
of martyrs in Dheisheh refugee camp
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/dheisheh-refugee-camp> near the
West Bank city of Bethlehem
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/bethlehem> is crowded with families
visiting the graves of their loved ones.
Al-Akhras, however, could only dream of visiting his daughter’s grave so
that he could lay a wreath and shed the tears that he had tried so
resolutely to hold back.
His daughter Ayat, 17, blew herself up in a market in Jerusalem in March
2002, killing a girl her same age and a security guard.
During that time, at the height of the second intifada, Dheisheh had
been subjected to daily raids and attacks by Israeli forces.
“When I finally received her remains in February 2014, it was like
saying that suspended goodbye that we did not have the chance to utter,”
Muhammad told The Electronic Intifada.
Thousands attended Ayat’s funeral procession in February 2014, Muhammad
said. He added that since she was supposed to get married just after
graduating high school, her funeral was like a wedding party.
Even though al-Akhras managed to reclaim his daughter’s remains, he is
still strongly committed to the cause of returning all martyrs’ bodies.
He has memorized the names of those in the cemeteries of numbers.
He reads all the available information and regularly visits the
workshops that the campaign organizes. The 67-year-old can no longer
walk and uses a wheelchair, but his physical disability hasn’t
diminished his dedication to the cause.
“I wish I could go to Hebron and march with the families of martyrs to
demand the bodies of their martyrs,” he said. “It was my indomitable
faith that allowed me to handle Ayat’s loss and I hope that all of them
keep this faith and get to bury their children.”
Detaining the bodies of Palestinian martyrs and later burying them in
secret cemeteries is designed to achieve multiple purposes. The policy
imposes an additional punishment on the dead and collective punishment
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/collective-punishment> on their
Martyrs’ bodies have also been used
as potential bargaining chips in prisoner exchange deals.
The policy also has more existential implications.
But by withholding the bodies, Israel is targeting the collective
Palestinian memory and dehumanizing those living under its colonial rule
who dare to challenge its occupation.
In her book, /Security Theology, Surveillance and the Politics of Fear
the Palestinian scholar Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian argues that “the
occupying colonial power does not only control and expropriate the
living, but also the dead and sites of Palestinian burial.”
“Israel is still reading and writing the power of the dead as a security
threat,” she adds.
Every martyr’s funeral is likely to turn into a mass protest — and
Israel is fully aware of that.
In Jerusalem, Israel decides when Palestinians can obtain the bodies of
their dead, where they can bury them and the number of people allowed at
the funerals. Israel has even ordered families to hand over money to
collect the bodies of their loved ones.
Fadi Alloun <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/fadi-alloun>, 19, was
shot and killed
by Israeli police near Jerusalem’s Old City on 4 October.
His family was forced to bury him on 12 October in his Jerusalem
neighborhood of Issawiyeh
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/issawiyeh> rather than in a family
plot closer to the Old City. Alloun’s body was only handed over to the
family before dawn on the day of the funeral — after more than a week of
Israel uses such tactics to try and break Palestinians’ spirits, but
they have the opposite effect. Instead of crushing people, Israel’s
policies of punishment and control increase social cohesion, communal
solidarity and defiance.
Qassim Badran from Kufr Aqab, near Jerusalem, grieved the death of his
16-year-old son Ishaq, who was killed
by Israeli forces in the Old City earlier this month after an alleged
stabbing attempt. Following his son’s killing, Badran was threatened
with home demolition
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/home-demolitions> and the
revocation of his Jerusalem residency as his village is located behind
the massive wall Israel is building in the West Bank. His son’s body has
not yet been returned to him.
“I have also been subjected to an economic war — my bank account was
frozen due to an old tax issue that dates back 12 years and Israeli
authorities [have] issued a travel ban against me,” he told The
“It was my son’s own decision to respond to Israel’s ongoing crimes and
his decision alone, but I will never disown him or blame him for what he
did,” Badran added.
Like all other parents from Jerusalem, Badran reiterated that he will
never agree to receive the body of his child unless all Jerusalem
families are able to reclaim the bodies of their children.
“We are completely unified,” he explained. “I will treat the son of
Jabal al-Mukabir [a neighborhood in East Jerusalem] as if he were my own.”
So far, families awaiting the return of loved ones’ bodies have decided
against submitting a petition to the Israeli high court
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/israeli-high-court>. The families
fear that the court will reject their case.
And they do not have much trust in Israel’s judicial system.
An Israeli public prosecutor last week rejected a request submitted by a
number of families, according to Rami Saleh, head of the Jerusalem-based
branch of the legal aid center.
During a press conference <https://maannews.net/Content.aspx?id=806428>
in Ramallah last week, martyrs’ families stated that they will not allow
Israel to exploit their need to reclaim the bodies as a means of
breaking their spirits.
Lawyer Muhammad Alayan, father of Bahaa Alayan
shot dead by Israeli police last month, vowed to keep on campaigning.
“Every inch of this soil is Palestinian,” Muhammad said. “And wherever
my son will be buried, I know that he will be on Palestinian land.”
/Budour Youssef Hassan is a Palestinian writer and law graduate based in
occupied Jerusalem. Blog: budourhassan.wordpress.com
<https://budourhassan.wordpress.com/>. Twitter: @Budour48
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