The practice of withholding the bodies of Palestinians killed by the Israeli army has been repeatedly challenged by human rights organizations. In July 2017, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in the Jabareen v. Israeli police case that there is ‘no source of [legal] authority’ to allow for the withholding of the bodies and rendered the imposition of conditions on the families of the deceased ‘superfluous’. In addition, in December 2017, the Israeli Supreme Court had accepted, in a precedent-setting ruling, a petition submitted by the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre and the Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs on behalf of six families whose loved ones’ corpses have been withheld by the Israeli authorities. The Court ruled that the Israeli government’s policy of authorizing the army to withhold corpses of deceased Palestinians as bargaining chips in negotiations is illegal. The majority opinion concluded that Regulation 133(3) of the Defense (Emergency) Regulations of 1945, used by Israel as the legal basis for this policy, does not explicitly authorize the Military Commander to withhold bodies of deceased Palestinians. However, instead of ordering the immediate release of the bodies withheld by Israel, the Court adopted a compromising position that granted the State of Israel six months to enact primary legislation that directly and explicitly permits the practice of withholding bodies. About three months later, the Israeli Parliament approved Amendment No. 3, proposed by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, to enshrine the legal authority required to carry out such inhumane and unlawful punitive practice against Palestinians killed and their families.
Over the past few years, the Occupying Power has withheld the bodies of Palestinians killed and set inconsiderate, restrictive, and degrading conditions on their families to receive their bodies, including by paying deposits, restricting the number of participants in the funeral, and requirements for the immediate burial of bodies following their release, among others. As of 13 March 2018, 18 Palestinian bodies remain withheld by the Israeli occupying authorities since 2016, killed by the IOF for alleged attacks:
During alleged attacks, the IOF deploys excessive, disproportionate, and unnecessary use of lethal of force, executing a shoot-to-kill policy amounting to unlawful and extra-judicial killings. The IOF then withholds the bodies, thus obstructing information that could be collected from autopsies as evidence of unlawful killing. The withholding of Palestinian bodies is a standard practice long used by Israel which violates its obligations as an Occupying Power under international law. Customary international humanitarian law stipulates that parties to an armed conflict must respect the dead who “must be disposed of in a respectful manner.” It further obliges parties to the conflict to return the remains and personal effects of the dead to their families. In addition, Article 17 of the Second Geneva Convention requires that the deceased must be held in accordance with the religious rites that they belong to. According to Additional Protocol I, the families of the deceased have a right to be informed of the fate of their relatives, as part of the general principle requiring parties to the conflict to conduct their activities within this scope. The withholding of the bodies of the deceased further amounts to the collective punishment of the protected population, prohibited under Article 50 of the Hague Regulations, Article 33(1) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and Article 75(2)(d) of Additional Protocol I. Moreover, the practice violates the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment. Where the deceased are not buried in accordance to their religious and cultural traditions, the withholding of the bodies of the deceased further violates cultural rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In light of this, and the ongoing impunity granted to Israel, its actions, laws and policies, the international community must immediately intervene and take measures regarding Israel’s rapid adoption of discriminatory and unlawful laws. As part of their obligations under international law, Third States must condemn and deem unlawful Israel’s recently adopted laws, including those pertaining to withholding the bodies of the Palestinians killed, passed on 7 March 2018, and call on Israel to repeal the law which allows for such unlawful, degrading, discriminatory practice.
Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem
Community Action Centre (Al-Quds University)
Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre
Society of St. Yves
Badil Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights
 See: Knesset, Knesset Passes Law Granting Police the Authority to Hold Terrorists’ Bodies, 8 March 2018, available at: https://knesset.gov.il/spokesman/eng/PR_eng.asp?PRID=13804
 Adalah, Knesset Passes Law Allowing Israeli Police to Hold Bodies of Palestinians as Precondition for Funeral Arrangements, 12 March 2018, available at: https://www.adalah.org/en/content/view/9430
 See: Adalah, Translation of Decision from Hebrew to English by Adalah, available at: https://www.adalah.org/uploads/uploads/English_SCT_decision_release_bodies_Umm_al-Fahem_July_2017_FINAL.pdf; See also: Adalah, Precedent-Setting Israeli Supreme Court Ruling on Adalah Petition: Israeli Police Not Allowed to Hold Bodies, 26 July 2017, available at: https://www.adalah.org/en/content/view/9172
 On 19 February 2018, the Israeli Supreme Court accepted a request by the Israeli government for an additional hearing on the issue to be held before an expanded panel of seven justices on 17 July 2018.
 See: JLAC, Following the Supreme Court Ruling, JLAC calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all bodies withheld by Israel, available at: http://www.jlac.ps/details.php?id=nwjkfoa1502y4xxtgq2tv
 On 8 March 2018, the Supreme Court issued an injunction against returning the body of fisherman Abu Rayala to his family after a petition filed by the family of a killed Israeli soldier (8627/17, Golden v. Government of Israel). On March 13 the court canceled the injunction, effectively paving the way for the release of Abu Rayala’s body. See: Supreme Court Decision, 13 March 2018, available at: https://supremedecisions.court.gov.il/Home/Download?path=HebrewVerdicts\17\270\086\z16&fileName=17086270.Z16&type=2
 In addition to the 18 bodies, the Israeli authorities have long withheld the remains of at least 265 Palestinians and Arabs in so called “cemeteries of numbers” without disclosing or identifying the location of their burial.
 See: UN Committee against Torture, Concluding Observations on the fifth periodic report of Israel, 3 June 2016, para. 43; Also See: UN General Assembly, Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, 30 August 2016, para. 4, 25, 72(g).