RAMALLAH: At least 11 people were injured on Tuesday in Jerusalem as Israeli forces clashed in the north of the city with protesters demanding the release of the bodies of Palestinians who died in custody at Qalandia checkpoint.
Soldiers fired bullets and used tear gas to disperse the crowd as dozens of Palestinians marched from Al-Amari refugee camp, south of Ramallah, toward the checkpoint.
The Palestine Red Crescent Society said its medics treated a young man who appeared to have been shot in the leg with explosive bullets. Eight people were treated for tear gas inhalation, and two suffered burns as a result of being hit by gas canisters.
The participants in the protest march included families of people who died during detention in Israeli prisons, and representatives of civil society. It followed a similar event this week at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Israeli soldiers are reportedly holding the bodies of 17 Palestinians from the city who died in detention.
According to a campaign that lobbies for the return of bodies and for information about the fates of people who are missing, Israeli authorities have held the bodies of 256 Palestinians in so-called “graves of numbers” and 117 in refrigerators since Israel resumed the policy of kidnapping bodies in October 2015.
In addition, Palestinians say about 68 people have gone missing since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967, their fates unknown. Israeli authorities claim that they do not have any information about them.
Protesters called on the international community to hold Israel to account, describing the refusal to return bodies as a form of collective punishment and a violation of international human rights laws. They said that Israeli authorities are holding the bodies of dozens of former detainees in an attempt to put pressure on Hamas to release four Israeli soldiers who went missing in Gaza.
The withheld bodies in Jerusalem include those of five women and 11 prisoners who died in custody. The most recent death was that of Abu Hamid, a member of the Fatah movement who died of lung cancer in the Israeli Asaf Harofeh Hospital on Dec. 20.
Ahmed Ghuneim, a Fatah leader in Jerusalem, told Arab News that Israel would not voluntarily release the bodies and so the protests will continue. He said the Palestinian Authority should make intensive efforts to force Israeli authorities to hand them over, including taking action in international courts.
“Detaining the bodies of the occupied people after their death is something that no country in the world has done, and the silence about it has made Israel believe that its behavior and conduct is normal and acceptable,” he said.
Israeli authorities refuse to issue death certificates to the families of prisoners who died in Israeli prisons or provide lists of those who are being held.
Dana Ben Shimon, a senior reporter for Israel Hayom newspaper, told Arab News that Israeli authorities are withholding bodies to provide leverage in potential negotiations for future prisoner exchanges.
Palestinian sources confirmed to Arab News that efforts will continue in the coming weeks to have the bodies returned.