The horrifying footage of an Israeli bulldozer collecting the body of a dead Palestinian man on the Gaza border, dragged and lifted inhumanely, went viral on social media last week of February. Mohammed al-Naem, age 27, was shot by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) on February 23 and his body retrieved in a dehumanizing manner, hanging by his clothes from the teeth of the vehicle.
Palestinians attempting to retrieve the body were dispersed by the Israeli military’s live fire. Al-Naem, who was accused by Israel of attempting to place explosives close to the fence in Khan Younis, was a member of the Al-Quds Brigades, affiliated to the Islamic Jihad.
Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett has long argued for the withholding of Palestinian bodies to be used as bargaining chips in negotiations to release captive Israeli soldiers.
Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett has long argued for the withholding of Palestinian bodies to be used as bargaining chips in negotiations to release captive Israeli soldiers and the bodies of two men, held by Hamas in Gaza.
In an interview on Israeli radio, Bennett mentioned “hoarding the corpses of terrorists” to put pressure on Palestinians.
Withholding dead bodies is a violation of the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law, which stipulate proper burial and the marking of graves in order to provide recognition. In 2019, the Israeli High Court legally approved the practice, citing security reasons and the possibilities of eliminating alleged Palestinian incitement, as well as to allow leverage in bargaining for any captive Israeli soldiers or bodies withheld.
While the Israeli court decision clearly violates international law and conventions, it has been engaging in the practice of corpse desecration before the ruling. “Cemeteries of Numbers” in closed-off zones hold Palestinian bodies which Israel decided it would not return to the bereaved families. Around 253 Palestinians have been buried in enforced anonymity and their remains released only at Israel’s discretion, usually in the early hours of morning to prevent mass mourning. Since 1967, 45 Palestinian bodies have disappeared—or been lost, according to the Israeli narrative.
The withholding of Palestinian bodies by Israel is an act of collective violence that is considered a war crime.
Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor founder Ramy Abdu called the withholding of Palestinian bodies by Israel “an act of collective violence that is considered a war crime.”
Legal researcher Budour Hassan from the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center described Israel’s violation as “an extension of an entire policy designed by Israel to control bodies of Palestinians.”
Israeli control over Palestinian lives has been absolute since the 1948 Nakba, when Zionist paramilitaries ethnically cleansed Palestinian towns and villages to build a colonial enterprise upon stolen land. It is from this backdrop that the current violence must be analyzed—the massacres and disappearances of Palestinian people targeted by Zionist paramilitaries. The “Cemeteries of Numbers” have their own predecessors in the form of earlier mass graves where Palestinians were buried without the dignity of proper rites.
Israel classified most of its archives regarding the Nakba; the reason being to burden historians with speculation as opposed to proving documented proof. The decision is meant to undermine historical credibility and enable the fabricated colonial narratives to thrive.
Palestinian oral history has played an important role in narrating the Nakba and its violations. Such testimonies have filled important gaps in the historical narrative which shed light upon the systematic dehumanization of Palestinians since the colonial project’s inception.
Technology and social media have altered the scene, and Israel is now relying more than ever upon justifying its violence against Palestinian civilians.
Also coinciding with the dehumanization in Gaza, Israel used bulldozers in Nablus to disperse protestors, driving massive slabs of rock into the small crowd. Clearly, colonialism has reached unprecedented levels of insanity which are not questioned by the international community, despite the blatant violations of human rights. For Israel, Palestinians constitute legitimate targets. The concept of a target in Gaza is further compounded by the deprivation of freedom of movement.
In Gaza, where Palestinians are perpetually internally displaced, bombed, killed, and maimed, there is no escape. There is no alternative other than unwilling participation in the weapons-testing playground created by Israel. The isolation that comes with closing all possible avenues of movement has created a distorted perception; one that falls prey to Israeli justification of war crimes.
Israel’s security narrative has been absorbed internationally, which is why there has been no collective condemnation of the Israeli Defence Forces dragging a dead Palestinian from a bulldozer.
Israel’s security narrative has been absorbed internationally, which is why there has been no collective condemnation of the IDF dragging a dead Palestinian from a bulldozer. For the international community, there is no politics of violence when it comes to Israel and the Palestinian people. The simplified version of Israel’s security fighting terrorism in Gaza is sufficient. If deemed absolutely necessary, some human rights jargon might figure into the equation, and only if it is ascertained that the diplomatic support Israel receives supersedes any condemnation.
If the gruesome footage has not elicited any reaction from local politicians, Israel’s policy of withholding the bodies of slain Palestinians will matter even less at an international level. Bennett faces little opposition inside Israel and none abroad, making the latest war crime inconspicuous.
Meanwhile, the trend of human rights organizations, particularly in Palestine, being burdened with the political aspect of violence, is set to increase. If no political decision to restrain Israel is reached, these organizations will remain tasked beyond their capacity to safeguard human rights and pushed into roles which politicians should be pursuing.
As the latest bloody spectacle in Gaza unfolded, it became clear that the international community’s manipulation of politics and security has once again failed Palestinians. Far from serving a noble cause, as the international community continues to turn a blind eye to Israel’s crimes, human rights are now intrinsically linked to dehumanization.