Thousands of Palestinians took out marches across the occupied territories on Tuesday, December 27, demanding that Israel release the bodies of deceased Palestinian freedom fighter Nasser Abu Hmeid and others killed by its forces.
Protesters in the occupied West Bank marched from Amari refugee camp near Ramallah to the Qalandia checkpoint. Israeli forces used heavy force to disperse the protesters once they arrived at the checkpoint. According to Palestinian Red Crescent, at least 11 Palestinians were injured in the attack carried out by Israeli security forces.
Similar protests were carried out between the Red Cross office and the UN headquarters in the occupied Gaza strip. Protesters carried symbolic coffins adorned with photographs of Hmeid.
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Protesters shouted slogans denouncing Israel and its policy of depriving family members of the bodies of deceased Palestinians, preventing them from properly mourning their loved ones or saying farewell. The protest in the occupied West Bank was also attended by Hmeid’s mother, who addressed the gathering and condemned Israel’s policy. She and others demanded that the bodies of all Palestinians withheld by Israel be released.
Israel has kept 118 bodies of Palestinians who died since 2015. This includes bodies of 11 Palestinian prisoners, including that of Hmeid. Israel has pursued this policy since 1967 and has buried over 200 Palestinians inside numbered graves as well.
Human rights activists have called the policy a form of “collective punishment.” They also claim that Israel often uses the bodies as a “bargaining chip,” exchanging them for Israeli soldiers captured by Hamas. The practice has been sanctioned within Israel by a law passed by the Israeli parliament (Knesset) in 2018.
Nasser Abu Hmeid (50) died last week in an Israeli hospital after suffering from cancer for over a year. He had been in Israeli prison since 2002. He was diagnosed with cancer in October 2021, but Israeli authorities refused to release him on medical grounds. Palestinians have accused Israeli authorities of killing him by deliberately denying him necessary medical care and keeping him in prison despite visible signs of illness, which ultimately led to his death.