The Israeli judiciary ruled Thursday that the government cannot indefinitely hold onto the bodies of five terrorists killed in a Gaza tunnel demolition; it must either pass a law authorizing the holding of the bodies as bargaining chips, or return them to Gaza. The High Court gave the government six months in which to act.
“The State of Israel, as a nation of laws, cannot hold on to corpses for the purpose of negotiations at a time when there is no specific and explicit law that allows it do so,” the justices wrote in their decision.
The court decision came in response to an appeal by families of terrorists whose bodies are currently being held by Israel. Justices Yoram Danziger and George Kara wrote the majority decision, while Justice Neal Hendel’s was the dissenting opinion.
The tunnel, which extended into Israeli territory from the city of Khan Yunis in Gaza, was demolished by the IDF shortly after its discovery in October.
The family of IDF Lt. Hadar Goldin, Hy’d, who died in fighting in Gaza in 2014 and whose body is still held by Hamas, took the opportunity to level withering criticism at the government’s failure to recover his body.
“We have felt for many long months now that the January cabinet decision calling for pressure to be put on Hamas was hollow and declarative only,” the family is quoted as saying in the Israeli media.
“The High Court decision will only increase the pressure on [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu and cabinet ministers to get up out of their seats, roll up their sleeves and start to work for the return of Hadar and Oron [Shaul, Hy”d, who was killed at the same time in Gaza] to Israel.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called the Court decision “problematic,” and said in an online posting that he intends to “convene cabinet ministers and the attorney general on Sunday for a special discussion to find practical and legal solutions in order to maintain the pressure on Hamas.”
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan criticized the Court’s decision, saying it “makes it more difficult for security forces to create deterrence and fight incitement.”
But he added that the deadline must be met: “We have to do everything in order to formalize the entire issue of terrorists’ bodies with rapid legislation and to give clear authority not to return them,” he said.