UN Special Procedures Communication: Withholding of Palestinian bodies

The Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) are systematically withholding the bodies of Palestinians, prolonging the suffering of families and denying them the ability to provide prompt and dignified burials. 

Israel’s policy of withholding the bodies of Palestinians is a longstanding practice which B’Tselem describe as “shrouded in ambiguity”.1 Israel relies upon the Defence (Emergency) Regulations of 1945 (introduced by the British Government and revoked at the end of its Mandate for Palestine in 1948), as the legal basis for its policy. Israel has since introduced legislation in 2018 to expand the scope of its policy to allow the Israeli police to withhold the bodies of Palestinians killed by the police or other security forces until families agree to preconditions on funeral arrangements. 

The systematic nature of Israel’s policy is underpinned by official organs of the State, including the judiciary, which is complicit in enabling impunity for those responsible in implementing and maintaining the policy.  

Whilst the exact number of Palestinian bodies the IOF has withheld and returned since 1967 is unknown, it is estimated that the number of withheld Palestinian bodies is in the hundreds, whereas between 1991 and 2007, around 405 Palestinian bodies were returned after being used for negotiations.2 

On 20 July 2022, the ICJP and the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre (JLAC), submitted a joint Communication, supported by The Last Rights Project, on behalf of eight Palestinian individuals who continue to suffer the consequences of Israel’s unlawful and discriminatory policy of withholding the bodies of their deceased relatives. This Communication was submitted to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967; the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief; the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; and the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.  

In the oldest case referred to in the Communication, the family have been waiting 42 years to date for the return of their relative’s body. The severe anguish suffered by families due to this policy denying them the ability to provide a dignified burial in accordance with their religious beliefs, continues to this day. 

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 has since confirmed the critical issue raised in the Communication will be addressed in the coming months.   

ICJP has instructed Haydee Dijkstal of 33 Bedford Row Chambers, and Chief Counsel (External) for ICJP, to act as counsel. 


1. B’Tselem, Israeli High Court greenlights holding Palestinian bodies as bargaining chips, 22 October 2019, available at: www.btselem.org/routine_founded_on_violence/20191022_hcj_greenlights_holding_palestinian_bodies_as_bargaining_chips.

2. Ibid.

Press release: 

20 July 2022: Press Release: ICJP and JLAC request the UN Human Rights Council to investigate the Israeli Occupying Forces systematic policy of withholding the bodies of deceased Palestinians