Ending the circle of grief

Opinion: The fact that Israel has been keeping the bodies of 68 Palestinians as a bargaining chip does little to bring closure to the Israeli families whose loved ones are missing, and only continues the cycle of hate and violence among Israelis and Palestinians

Robi Damelin|
The people of Israel were recently made aware of the fact that since April 2016, the country has been holding the remains of 68 Palestinians - a statistic provided by the B’Tselem human rights group.
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  • It seems that Israel’s government believes these remains could be used as a bargaining chip in future deals with the Palestinians. It made me think of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, the two IDF soldiers killed during the 2014 Gaza war whose bodies are being held for ransom by Hamas. And it make me think of their mothers.
    3 View gallery
    Clockwise from top left: Fallen soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, captives Hisham al-Saeed and Avera Mengistu
    Clockwise from top left: Fallen soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, captives Hisham al-Saeed and Avera Mengistu
    Clockwise from top left: Fallen soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, captives Hisham al-Saeed and Avera Mengistu
    I can’t help but wonder how they deal with not knowing what transpired during that fatal encounter in Gaza that took their sons’ lives, how they bear the fact they have no gravestone to visit to give them some semblance of closure.
    When I go to my son’s grave to take care of the growing foliage surrounding his gravestone, I feel it's a form of continuation of motherhood. Oron and Hadar’s families have been deprived of that.
    I also feel for the families of Avraham Mengistu and Hisham Al-Sayed, two Israeli citizens who entered Gaza in 2014 and 2015 respectively and have not been heard of since.
    All these families must feel a sense of dread and longing for the loved ones they know they might never see again.
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    First Lieutenant Hadar Goldin's parents, Leah and Simcha Goldin
    First Lieutenant Hadar Goldin's parents, Leah and Simcha Goldin
    Leah and Simcha Goldin, the parents of fallen soldier Hadar Goldin
    (Photo: AFP)
    The remains in Israel’s possession are those of Palestinians who died either in Israeli hospitals or in jail.
    I would expect that Defense Minister Benny Gantz - who visited so many bereaved families during his term as chief of staff - would understand the need for a grave to weep on, to take care of, to find solace in.
    A parent who loses a child will never be the same. I would expect Gantz to understand that a mother’s grief is the same, no matter if she’s Israeli or Palestinian.
    These bodily remains in our possession did little to help us return Hadar, Oron, Avraham or Hisham. It may be time for Israel to consider a more humane course of action, instead of opting for a collective punishment that only nurtures this cycle of horror and grief.
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    בית עלמין בתל אביב
    בית עלמין בתל אביב
    Families visiting the graves of loved ones at Tel Aviv military cemetery
    (Photo: Reuters)
    My beloved son David always said he thought Israel should act as an enlightened example for democracy. Keeping these remains captive is not enlightened, it is a dubious course of action that is, at best, legally questionable.
    I am not trying to justify the acts of hostility directed at Israel, only to try and persuade those in power to act wisely and compassionately.

    Robi Damelin is the mother of the late IDF reservist David Damelin, who was killed in 2002 in the West Bank, and the spokesperson for The Parents Circle – Families Forum, an organization for bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families
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