Israel’s ongoing practice of violence on the bodies of Palestinians has sparked condemnations, revealing its policy to exert control over the occupied territories while violating international human rights laws.
On Sunday, a video from Gaza emerged on social media showing a bulldozer approaching a body as young, apparently unarmed men, were trying to collect it. The sound of gunfire is heard and the men ultimately run away as the bulldozer collects the body. A tank can be seen positioned nearby. The Gaza health ministry said two civilians were wounded by Israeli gunfire at the scene.
Hawkish Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has pursued a policy of retaining the bodies of Palestinians from Gaza as bargaining chips to pressure Hamas to release the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, which the group has been holding since 2014. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement identified Sunday's fatality as Mohammed Al-Naem, 27, a member of their armed Al-Quds Brigade forces.
The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adala) has demanded a criminal investigation into the incident. In a letter to Israeli Chief Military Advocate General Sharon Afek, the center cited international laws that could classify the incident as a "war crime.” "The Israeli Supreme Court has likewise recognized in past rulings that harm to the dignity of the deceased is a violation of Israel's basic law: human dignity and liberty," the center said.
It is widely known that Israel employs the practice as a tactic for leverage in negotiations. The Geneva Conventions state that the parties of an armed conflict must bury the deceased in an honorable way, "if possible according to the rites of the religion to which they belonged and that their graves are respected, properly maintained, and marked in such a way that they can always be recognized."
The Israeli practice of withdrawing Palestinians’ bodies has led to the latest round of fighting between the Islamic Jihad and Israeli forces, which threaten to disrupt next week's Israeli national elections.
A shaky cease-fire appeared to be taking hold early Tuesday. Early Monday evening, Islamic Jihad declared a unilateral cease-fire. But Israel continued to strike targets in Gaza. Islamic Jihad accused Israel of continued “aggression” and resumed its rocket fire, drawing further Israeli airstrikes and an Israeli closure of Gaza's key border crossings and fishing zone. It was the heaviest round of fighting since November, when Israel and Islamic Jihad engaged in a two-day battle after Israel killed one of the group’s top commanders.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is locked in the final days of a divisive election campaign, ramped up his rhetoric. He threatened Gaza’s Hamas rulers with a harsher operation if the rocket fire continued. “I’m talking about a war,” he told Israel’s Army Radio station. “I only go to war as a last option, but we have prepared something you can’t even imagine."
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