Tuesday, 24 Nov 2020
12/03/2020 11:40 AM

By Rami A Dalloul

The writer Rami A Dalloul is a Palestinian media and communication studies undergraduate at Universiti Malaya. He is currently undergoing a three-month internship programme at Bernama. 

GAZA STRIP (Bernama) – A graphic video that went viral in late February showing how Israeli security forces humiliated the body of a Palestinian they had shot dead serves as a testament of the atrocities committed by the Israelis on the Palestinians from cradle to grave.    

The short clip showed an Israeli military bulldozer dragging and picking up the dead man's body as if it was an animal carcass – yet another grim reminder of the sad fate of the Palestinians in the remnants of their homeland.

The disrespect for the dead does not stop there. The remains of the Palestinian man in the video, Mohammed Ali al-Naim, 27, who was shot dead near the Gaza-Israel border on Feb 23, never reached his family. 

The mother of slain Palestinian Mohammed Ali al-Naim. -- Photo courtesy of Palestine Daily

I had been following the episode closely and al-Naim mother's poignant words, “I just want his body”, kept haunting me as I could imagine where the body had ended up.

The world has heard of Palestinians dying from the gunshots of the Israeli security forces but most are oblivious to the fact that the families hardly get to retrieve the victims’ bodies as they are used as a bargaining chip to pressure Palestinians at the negotiation table.


The policy of showing disrespect to dead Palestinians is not new, in fact, it dates to the 1945 British Mandate. Israel has been following the same policy as well and even created the “cemetery of numbers” to bury the remains of the Palestinians they had killed. 

Such cemeteries are located in military zones and here, the remains of Palestinians are buried but their names are not indicated, instead, their graves are identified via numbers.

Military bulldozers and Israeli soldiers at a cemetery of numbers. -- Photo courtesy of Palestine Daily

Israel still holds the bodies of 255 Palestinians in various cemeteries of numbers, with the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre stating that 52 of the bodies have been detained by the Israeli government since 2016.

It is not known how many cemeteries of numbers exist but a report by Salwa Hammad, lawyer and coordinator of a campaign to retrieve the remains of dead Palestinians, estimates there are six such cemeteries where Israel withholds Palestinian bodies as a collective punishment for their families.   

As a result of this immoral policy, the Palestinians are psychologically affected and must either wait for decades to get back the remains of their loved ones or never get to see the remains again.  


The cemetery of numbers is a cause of misery for many, including Mohammed Nassar who, according to reports by the Palestinian media, has not seen his dead son Shadi's remains for 15 years now.

"We're always nervous ... even though it has been 15 years, sometimes, we get doubts about whether he's really dead because we haven't buried him ourselves. It is a form of psychological torture. Every day is a painful day,” said Nassar.

It is indeed an agonising wait for many. In 2014, Israel returned the remains of Majdi Khanfar 12 years after he was killed in the second Intifada. The body of Hafez Abu Zant was released after 35 years in 2011.

"If the remains are in a cemetery of numbers, we get it back in a black bag – some bones, some soil and maybe their clothes," Salwa Hammad said.


Even when they get back the remains after an agonising wait, the families may not be sure if it is the right body and whether the organs have been harvested.

In 2009, Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet released a damning report that Israel steals organs from the bodies of dead Palestinians they withhold, following the famous case of martyr Belal Ghanem whose body was returned with a long surgical stitch on his abdomen.

Israeli soldiers lifting a coffin carrying the remains of a Palestinian at a cemetery of numbers. -- Photo courtesy of Palestine Daily

Till now, Israel is still violating international laws by holding the remains of Palestinians in the cemetery of numbers while the United Nations has yet to take any action to stop such inhuman acts.

I can only sum up that Palestinians not only have lost their motherland but also the right to give their dead family members a decent burial. 


Edited by Rema Nambiar





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