Hundreds of Palestinians from the Hebron district on Thursday marched in demand that the Israeli government immediately return the bodies of 21 Palestinians who were recently killed by Israeli forces.
Families of those killed, Hebron governor Kamel Hmeid, and a number of Palestinian officials were among crowds that gathered to protest Israel’s policy of withholding the bodies of Palestinians who carried out attacks on Israelis, or who were suspected of doing so.
Participants condemned the use of collective punishment by Israeli authorities, raising photos of individuals whose bodies were being held and demanding their unconditional return.
The 21 Hebron-area Palestinians whose bodies are still being withheld are among dozens of others to be taken and held inside of Israel in recent months.
Israel’s security cabinet announced in October that the bodies of Palestinians shot dead by Israeli forces after carrying out attacks on Israelis would no longer be returned to their families.
The decision — one among a series of stringent security measures — was reportedly taken in order to avoid mass funerals that Israeli leadership have termed “nationalistic” events that “incite” against Israel.
The move was initially pushed by Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and approved by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel’s refusal to hand over the bodies ignited protests in Hebron in October that eventually led to the return of the bodies of five Palestinians. A mass joint-funeral following their return drew thousands of mourners.
The policy has made waves among the Palestinian public as well as international rights organizations who argue that withholding bodies punishes family and community members who have not carried out crimes.
Families in the Hebron area — where over 30 Palestinians have been killed and where nearly a third of detentions have taken place since Oct. 1 — have been hit particularly hard by Israeli policies that target the relatives and communities of attackers.
Severe restrictions on movement, mass arrest campaigns, as well as punitive home demolitions are among measures implemented in Hebron by Israeli authorities since the recent escalation in violence in the occupied Palestinian territory.