Minister: Work to Begin ‘Immediately’ on Legislation to Overturn Court Decision on Remains of Terrorists

Palestinian members of Hamas’ armed wing take part in the funeral of senior militant Mazen Fuqaha in Gaza City in March. (Reuters/Mohammed Salem)

The government will be begin work next week on legislation to counter the dramatic High Court decision Thursday that requires it to surrender the remains of terrorists to their families. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said Thursday night that she would distribute to MKs the text of a law that will allow the government to take into consideration security issues as part of the decision to release the bodies of terrorists. The law, she said, “will ensure that we do not surrender the bodies of terrorists as long as the remains of our soldiers are in the hands of terrorists.”

The court said Thursday that the current policy of holding onto the bodies of dead terrorists as assets for negotiations with terror groups was being done by the government without the authority of law, as there is no legislation covering the matter. The decision was made in response to a petition by the families of terrorists demanding that the government hand over the bodies of relatives who were killed in the course of conducting terror attacks in Israel.

The state cannot continue to hold on to the bodies of terrorists without the appropriate legal instruments, the court ruled, giving the state six months to pass such a law, or to surrender the terrorists’s bodies. The state currently holds nine bodies of dead terrorists, seven of which have been buried in a special military cemetery set aside for this purpose.

The decision set off a wave of denunciation in the political establishment. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called the decision “problematic,” adding that “we cannot give Hamas gifts. I will call a meeting of the Cabinet Sunday to discuss ways of solving this in a legal manner, and to develop new ways to pressure Hamas.

Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said that the government would conduct “a marathon session” to quickly write, approve, and pass a law that would arrange the matter before the six month deadline was up. “We owe this to the families of citizens and IDF soldiers who were victims of terror attacks.”

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said that the decision “gave terrorists yet another prize, courtesy of the High Court, which has struck a fatal blow to our efforts to bring home our soldiers held by Hamas. The decision once again highlights the court’s inverted value system, which puts murderers and their families at the forefront, granting them rights and privileges on the account of IDF soldiers and families who have lost members to terror attacks.”

Families of soldiers killed in terror attacks and missing in action also denounced the decision. Among the bodies is that of Fadhi Ahmad Hamdan Kunbar, who in January killed four IDF soldiers and injured 18 others in a terror attack in Armon Hanatziv in Yerushalayim. Killed in that attack was IDF soldier Shir Hajaj, whose parents denounced the decision. “We are two weeks before the azakara and we are still in mourning, and now this decision,”

Hajaj’s parents told Yediot Acharonot. “Unfortunately this decision will ensure that terrorists will have mass funerals that turn into celebrations of our deaths. Once again the court gives preference to the rights of terrorists, placing them ahead of the rights of law-abiding citizens and of the state that tries to defend them.”

Aviram Shaul, the brother of IDF soldier Oron Shaul, whose remains are being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza, said that he expects the Knesset to act quickly to correct the situation. “We cannot provide a free gift to terrorists as a result of this decision. We hope that MKs will remember that Hamas has been holding for three and a half years a soldier who went to fight for the state and still has not been brought home.”

The family of IDF soldier Hadar Goldin, whose remains are also being held in Gaza, said that the decision “will increase the pressure on Netanyahu and the Cabinet to get off their chairs, roll up their sleeves, and get to work on bringing home Oron and Hadar.”

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