Palestinian Organisations Send Submission to the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions on Israel’s Continued Oppression of Palestinians Beyond Their Killing

On 6 February 2024, in response to a call for input issued by the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions for his upcoming report on the protection of dead persons and their human remains, including of victims of potentially unlawful killings, Al-Haq, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, and Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC) sent a joint submission underscoring Israel’s continued and systematic oppression of Palestinians beyond their killing.


Specifically, the submission highlights the mutilation of Palestinian bodies by the Israeli occupying forces (IOF); the withholding of Palestinian bodies, including those of prisoners and detainees; the use of mass graves especially during the ongoing genocide in the Gaza Strip; and digging of Palestinian graves and cemeteries. The submission further places such draconian policies and practices within the broader context of Israel’s Zionist settler-colonialism and apartheid regime.


Despite the International Court of Justice’s provisional measures order issued on 26 January 2024, Israel has persisted in over a four-month-long campaign in Gaza, resulting in the killing of at least 27,365 Palestinians, primarily women and children, and injuring 66,630 others, as of 4 February 2024. Simultaneously, between 7 October 2023 and 4 February 2024, the IOF and Israeli settlers killed 373 Palestinians, including 95 children and three women, in the occupied West Bank, including eastern Jerusalem.


Beyond the immediate harm of extrajudicial killings, Israel’s policies extend to the encroachment upon Palestinian dignity, exemplified through the desecration and mutilation of Palestinian bodies including by slamming, picking up, and dragging Palestinians by bulldozers, and running over Palestinians, and the withholding of Palestinian bodies, including children, to be used as bargaining chips, amounting to prohibited collective punishment.


As of 6 February 2024, and according to the documentation of JLAC, the Israeli occupying authorities are withholding the bodies of 205 Palestinian residents of the West Bank, including 26 children, two women and 17 prisoners or detainees; indefinitely depriving them of dignified burial. In addition, 28-year-old Waseem Abu Al-Heija, a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, was killed on 29 January 2024, and his body has been withheld by the Israeli authorities since then. Moreover, since 7 October 2023, Israel has been withholding the bodies of hundreds of killed Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip, with the exact count unverifiable due to constraints imposed by Israel. According to the latest information available to the organisations, as reported, 291 decomposed Palestinian bodies, previously withheld by Israeli authorities, have been released and buried in mass graves in Gaza.


Indeed, mass graves stand as a grim testament to Israel’s colonial oppression against Palestinians since its establishment, including during the Nakba of 1948. The burial of Palestinians, often unidentified, in mass graves remains a common practice in Gaza since 7 October 2023, due to the extensive and unprecedented level of Israel’s killing, to the extent that even hospital courtyards have been transformed into sites of mass burial. Furthermore, especially in IOF-deployed areas, where danger is compounded, the bodies of thousands of killed Palestinians, including women and children, remain trapped under the rubble, as the IOF prevents rescue and medical teams from reaching these areas, leaving the bodies to decompose.


The submission further highlights the Israeli military’s targeting and disregarding the sanctity of Palestinian lives and memories during the ongoing genocide in Gaza including through the reported bombing and bulldozing of at least six graveyards and cemeteries, as well as the excavating and exhuming of a mass grave in Kamal Adwan Hospital where 26 Palestinian bodies had been buried. Notably, this pattern of desecrating Palestinian cemeteries is not a new practice, as Israel had previously engaged in similar actions in al-Yousofiyya Cemetery in Jerusalem in 2021 for the purposes of establishing a national park over parts of the cemetery.


Finally, underscoring that the Israeli judicial system is itself a tool by which the pervasive impunity imposed and enjoyed by Israel is maintained and entrenched, the joint submission urged the Special Rapporteur to:

  • Recognise that Israel’s systematic and institutionalised excessive use of force and withholding of bodies contribute to the maintenance of Israel’s settler-colonialism and apartheid;
  • Address the ongoing Israeli genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, including the high level of killings, which forced the creation of mass graves, denying Palestinians safe and dignified burial, and the Israeli military’s digging of cemeteries; and
  • Urge UN Member States to reconstitute the UN Special Committee against Apartheid and the UN Centre against Apartheid as critical steps towards ending Israel’s institutionalised impunity, settler-colonialism and apartheid.