Call to action, 11 March through 18 March 2023
“We will not abandon the last duty we owe our sons, to bury them with dignity”
– Azhar Abu Srour, the mother of the martyr Abd al-Hamid Abu Srour who has been imprisoned in the Morgues of the occupation since 2016
Join us to take action between 11 and 18 March to demand the release of the remains of Palestinian martyrs held in the Zionist occupation’s morgues and “numbers cemeteries.” This week of action aims to combat the Palestinian, Arab and international official silence and neglect of this critical issue and internationalize the struggle to free these imprisoned martyrs and end the collective punishment of Palestinian families and communities.
There are 256 Palestinian martyrs whose bodies are documented to be held in the “numbers cemeteries,” where Palestinians are buried with numbers, rather than their names, while another 131 Palestinian martyrs’ bodies are held in the occupation’s morgues.
These martyrs gave their lives in the Palestinian resistance movement, and their bodies remain imprisoned even after their death. A number of the martyrs were imprisoned before their death, and this battle remains an integral part of the Palestinian prisoners’ movement.
We announce the launch of an ongoing, open international campaign to release the remains of the Palestinian martyrs that continue to be detained by the Zionist occupation. 11 March through 18 March 2023 are days of action and struggle to recover the Palestinian martyrs’ remains. As 18 March also marks an International Prisoners’ Day, we also highlight that our martyrs in the morgues and the “numbers cemeteries” are also prisoners of the Zionist project.
The occupation pursues a fascist policy in its treatment of the Palestinian and Arab martyrs. By refusing to give their families the opportunity to bury their loved ones, the occupation uses the remains of the martyrs as a mechanism for psychological torture of their families by detaining them for years and using them as a card for negotiation with the Palestinian resistance.
The Palestinian people have made clear that this barbaric policy will never “deter” Palestinian youth from taking part in the resistance. These martyrs remain prisoners of the occupation even after death, and their families and the Palestinian people as a whole have every right to liberate, honour and bury them in ceremonies worthy of the sacrifices they made for the cause of Palestine, for return and liberation.
After occupation forces kidnapped the bodies of Palestinian fighters or killed Palestinians on the streets and in the fields, or after the death of a prisoner due to medical negligence or torture, the occupation transfers the martyr’s body to a morgue until a decision is made on the fate of their remains, which may take years.
The occupation uses this type of detention as a mechanism for the collective punishment of Palestinian families, to put pressure on them and make their daily lives even more painful. This policy of the detention of the remains of the martyrs is combined with home demolitions, targeting relatives of the martyrs for arrest and persecution, forcing these families from their homes and residences, and tightening the level of security control and surveillance of the families.
The occupation also uses the martyrs’ bodies as hostages and as a negotiating card for potential prisoner exchange agreements with the Palestinian resistance forces, an official policy upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court on 9 September 2019.
The occupation authorities also adopt a policy of refraining from issuing death certificates to the martyrs, which hinders the lives of their families and prevents them from taking any legal action regarding the martyr. In many cases, the occupation refrains from any announcement after clashing with the fighters, kidnapping them or kidnapping their bodies, so some parents still have hope for the return of their children or at least their survival, especially those who did not have any photos or videos proving the martyrdom of their son or daughter.
The policy of withholding the remains of the martyrs has a lengthy history throughout the occupation, and especially after 1967. While the policy was temporarily suspended in 2008, many martyrs from before this era continue to be held in the “numbers cemeteries.” Since 2015, the Zionist entity has returned to holding the remains of Palestinian martyrs in morgues as part of a systematic policy of collective punishment. Palestinian families of the martyrs question how their loved ones’ bodies are being treated, especially given the documented evidence that through the 1990s, Palestinian martyrs’ organs were harvested or used for studies at the Israeli National Center of Forensic Medicine.
From 2015 to the present day, there are approximately 120 martyrs’ remains improperly detained by the occupation in its morgues. Sometimes more than one body is placed inside the same chamber, and they are kept at a very low temperature that freezes the body and may also deform it or cause harm to it.
After detaining the body of the martyr for several years, the Zionist courts may decide to transfer the remains to the so-called “numbers cemeteries” without notifying their families or lawyers. This is a particularly devastating nightmare for the families because it will increase the difficulty of retrieving their loved ones’ remains.
The term “numbers cemeteries” is applied to secret burials surrounded by stones, without tombstones, where a metal plate bearing a specific number is installed on the top of the grave. These are called “numbers cemeteries” because they use numbers rather than the names of the martyrs, and each number has a special file with information and data on the martyr kept by Israeli institutions.
The occupation authorities pursue a policy of deliberate negligence in regard to the remains of the martyrs. They do not keep or provide adequate information about the remains and at times claim that they do not have the information at all! At other times, they do not record where the martyr’s body was buried. No DNA samples are kept to identify the martyrs. These come in addition to other policies aimed at intentionally harming the martyr’s family and the Palestinian people as a whole.
The numbers cemeteries are under the auspices of the Israeli Ministry of War – this means that they are “closed military zones” that are prohibited from being approached or photographed. The occupation calls these “cemeteries of the fallen enemy,” and the families of the martyrs, the media and representatives of international human rights or humanitarian organizations are forbidden to visit them.
The numbers cemeteries are distributed over four locations, in addition to the martyrs bodies held in morgues at hospitals, military camps and prisons under the occupation army. The bodies held by the occupation include hundreds of Palestinians and Arabs martyred at various historical stages of the national liberation struggle in addition to prisoners killed under torture or who died due to medical neglect and negligence.
According to human rights institutions, the policy of holding the bodies of Palestinian martyrs in the “numbers cemeteries” has been used since the occupation of Palestine in 1948 and has been significantly escalated since the development of the Palestinian armed revolution after 4 June 1967. There is no outside monitoring to allow these institutions to confirm the complete number and location of the “numbers cemeteries” or verify the number and identity of the Palestinians buried there. In fact, some of the remains may have been lost due to soil erosion and weather, according to Zionist media reports.
The occupation is key to highlight its own barbaric practices in dealing with the remains of the martyrs, as these practices are meant as methods of “deterrence,” collective punishment and state terror against the Palestinian people as a whole. In various cases, bodies have been buried in sand or mud in a plastic bag without cement or other insulation. At times, multiple martyrs have been buried in a single grave. After a series of legal battles, the occupation released dozens of bodies in 2012 and refused to release the rest, which remain in the “numbers cemeteries” to this day.
We reject the role and approach of the Palestinian Authority to the remains of the martyrs; the Authority continues to participate in “security coordination” which has led to the detention and martyrdom of Palestinian resisters, while it has largely abandoned the issue of retrieving the martyrs’ remains.
It is critical that we take action on an international level to popularize this campaign. We call on resistance organizations, Palestinian and Arab networks, solidarity groups supporting the prisoners’ struggle and boycott campaigns around the world to join us in this international campaign to recover and release the remains of Palestinian martyrs. This campaign aims to expand the support and solidarity for Palestinian prisoners and martyrs everywhere around the world, for their liberation and the liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea.
Hold an event: You can organize stands and demonstrations, prepare seminars, distribute leaflets and hang posters, and send your activities to firstname.lastname@example.org or to our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages.
These crimes must be exposed. It is time to defrost and warm the hearts of the mothers and fathers of the martyrs. End imprisonment and apartheid in death!
With loyalty to our prisoners and martyrs,
The International Campaign to Liberate the Remains of Palestinian Martyrs in the Morgues and “Numbers Cemeteries” of the Zionist Occupation
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