[News] Palestinian Mother waits 36 years for Israel to return son’s body

Anti-Imperialist News 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,” 
al-Abed added.

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 
Electronic Intifada.

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 
Electronic Intifada.

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,” 
he said.

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.”

    Collective punishment

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 
Electronic Intifada.

“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 
<https://twitter.com/Budour48> /

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