Demonstrators call on Red Cross to negotiate return of Palestinian martyrs

PNN / Bethlehem

Demonstrators gathered outside the offices of the International Committee for the Red Cross in Bethlehem on Thursday, calling on the Red Cross to intervene on behalf of the family of martyred teen, Muhammad Ahmad Abdel Rahman Daraghma.

Demonstrators gathered outside the offices at midday and presented a letter penned by the Daraghma family to Mr. David Quesne, Head Commissioner of the ICRC in Bethlehem.

The letter, which was later distributed to members of the press, calls on the Red Cross to intervene on behalf of the Daraghma family and to work with the Israeli authorities to ascertain the whereabouts, in lieu of return and burial, of Muhammad Daraghma’s remains.

‘We are entitled, according to international humanitarian law and international human rights’ laws and norms, to know the fate of our son. This entails whatever fate he endured; be it stay in the occupations refrigerators or buried in a “number tomb” that negates his humanity,’ the letter reads.

‘Number tomb(s)’ refer to the graveyards allocated to ‘killed enemy combatants’ in Israeli territory, and include the bodies of Hamas and Islamic Jihad members, as well as Palestinian citizens unaffiliated with any resistance arm.

‘We see that it is our right to demand it help our family retrieve the remains of our son, in order for us to do our duty towards him and bury him according to our customs and religion,’ the letter continued.

The Daraghma family expressed their appreciation for the work of the Red Cross in Palestine.

Muhammad Daraghma was killed in Jerusalem on 2nd March 2012 at only 17 years of age.

For the past 16 years, the whereabouts of Muhammad’s remains have been withheld from his family by Israeli authorities.

According to their letter, the Darahgma family hired the services of the Jerusalem Law Centre to attempt to locate their son’s remains, ‘but to this day the Israeli authorities are yet to give us any measure of certainty or closure.’

In December of last year, Israeli High Court ruled that in accordance with current Israeli law it is illegal with withhold the bodies of Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers, despite it being common practise.

The court encourage the Knesset to legislate the matter so as to make it legal, or to return the bodies currently being withheld, with some dating as far back as the 1967 War.

A report by Maan News, quoting Director of the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center, Issam Arouri, reports that the number of bodies held by Israel since 1967 is as high as 260.

19 of the bodies held by Israeli authorities date back to incidences from the last two years.

The decision by the High Courted was blasted by members of the ruling, right-wing coalition, including Prime Minister Netanyahu who accused the decision as ‘giving Hamas a free gift.’

Israel came under scrutiny earlier this year for withholding the bodies of five Islamic Jihad militants killed in an Israeli airstrike on a tunnel running under the separation wall between Gaza and Israel.

The bodies were to be used to negotiate the return of those of Israeli forces held in Gaza after the incursions into Gaza during Operation Protective Edge.

In an interview with Al-Jazerra, Salwa Hammad, lawyer and campaign coordinator, regarded the practise as that of ‘collective punishment’.

‘The main reason that they do this is to collectively punish the family of the martyr. I can’t tell you how emotionally affected the family gets. We get calls regularly from families telling us that they heard rumours from someone that was released from prison, saying that they heard information about their son.’

Withholding the bodies of the deceased violates international law.

According to the Geneva Convention, bodies of the decease must be buried in an honourable way, and ‘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 recognised.’

*All photos by author*