Israel is known for its Number Cemeteries. Classified as closed military zones, these are ‘home’ to hundreds of deceased Palestinians. Meaning that even in death — those who have lived under and fought against the occupation are robbed of a homeland.
A report published last month puts that figure at 249.
At the beginning of this year, the Jewish state announced a permanent change of policy: it would no longer be returning the bodies of Palestinian militants to their families, instead burying them itself. In the macabre Number Cemeteries. The move is said to guarantee the return of Israeli solider remains from Palestinian territory. Meaning that even in death — those who were a hindrance to Israeli territorial expansionism are not elevated beyond mere bargaining chips.
As with all things when it comes to the Israeli narrative, the devil is not only on stolen land — it is also very much in the detail. We have said it before and we say it again. Any occupying military power is responsible for its own security as well as that of whom it occupies. Yet by putting Palestinian militants on equal footing with Israeli soldiers the Jewish state is distorting the reality of its armed land grabbing.
Israel is not alone in this. It is a game of lexicon well played by the western imperial powers. It is not about the actual bodies, it rarely is. Even when Washington and London rebuked their media over civilian body counts in Iraq — it was not about the bodies. It was about sending out a subliminal message legitimising the occupation. By recasting the occupied as a threat to peace when it was the coalition of the willing that was waging war.
We saw something similar, too, at Guantánamo Bay and the numerous reports of Quran desecration. Whether or not this happened ceased to be important as the blatant narrative rewriting took centre stage. The US was the good guy. The detainees a ragtag bunch wishing to harm the American homeland. Yet despite all this — the US was still according them the unwarranted tenets of basic decency: access to their holy book. Thus deflecting attention from the pesky mater of its breaking all international legal norms by robbing inmates of their rightful Prisoner of War status as per the Geneva Conventions.
For the dead Palestinians whose families wish to bring them home there is some hope. The Jerusalem Legal Aid Centre is at the forefront of a Palestinian campaign to find out what has happened to all those missing. Documentation of its efforts can be found in its book: We have Names, We have a Homeland. It and other human rights groups rightly describe the Israeli tactic of withholding bodies in the absence of death certificates a form of collective punishment that flouts the Geneva Convention pertaining to dignified burials.
Sadly, the myth of western liberal democracy will remain just that until the Israeli military withdraws from all of Palestine. Until the US military retreats from the Muslim world. *
Published in Daily Times, August 12th 2017.