The Defense Ministry addressed for the first time on Sunday morning the number of bodies of neutralized terrorists that are held by Israel in response to an inquiry by the Israel Hayom newspaper on the issue.
According to the ministry, 80% of the bodies of terrorists who were killed while carrying out attacks remained in Israel's hands.
The figure was published after Israel returned the bodies of three terrorists for burial in recent weeks despite the Political-Security Cabinet's decision to hold the bodies of terrorists as a deterrence and potential bargaining chip in the event of a prisoner exchange deal.
On November 19, the IDF, at the instructions of the political echelon, returned the body of the terrorist Amjad Abu Sultan to his family. Abu Sultan was shot and killed after throwing Molotov cocktails at Israeli cars on a road near Jerusalem.
On December 20, Arab media reported that the IDF had returned the body of the terrorist, Dr. Hazem al-Julani, a 40-year-old doctor who carried out a stabbing attack in September in the Old City of Jerusalem.
This week it was reported that another terrorist's body had been returned to his family, that of Omar Abu Assav, who attacked two Border Police officers near the Ateret Kohanim yeshiva about a month ago.
Ministers said that no decision had been made in the Political Security Cabinet to change the policy. Most of the senior ministers in the current government, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, who served as defense ministers in the Netanyahu governments, have expressed their opinion that the bodies of terrorists should not be returned. Alternate prime minister Yair Lapid also spoke out against the return of the bodies of terrorists and said he would support legislation in this spirit.
The person who initiated and led the cabinet decision on the matter at the time is Defense Minister Benny Gantz. In August 2020, Gantz made a decision that any body of a terrorist who committed a terrorist attack, regardless of its outcome and regardless of his organizational affiliation, would not be transferred to his family.
Ganz said at the time that "not returning the bodies of terrorists is part of our commitment to maintain the security of the citizens of Israel, and of course to bring the boys home. I suggest to our enemies that they understand and internalize the message well."
Right-wing organizations attacked the return of the bodies. Matan Peleg, head of the "Im Tirzu movement, and Maor Tzemach from "Lech Yerushalayim" said: "In recent years, together with the 'Choosing Life' forum of bereaved families, we have waged a struggle to stop the bodies of the terrorists from being released. In September 2020, the Cabinet finally made a decision to stop it, and here we find that in the last two months, three bodies of terrorists have been released."
Israel holds about 80% of the terrorists' bodies In recent weeks, three bodies of terrorists have been returned, despite the wave of terrorism. Cabinet Ministers: Policy has not changed. "These decisions will not restore calm and bring peace. They will bring more terrorism, and constitute a reward for the terrorist organizations. We call on the cabinet ministers who over the years have expressed their opposition to the return of terrorist bodies - to reverse course and act in accordance with their statements."
The Defense Minister's Office said in response that "the Minister continues to lead the return policy without any change. An examination of the data shows that in more than 80 percent of the cases brought to the defense minister in the past year, he decided not to return the bodies. In exceptional cases, which comply with the decision of the Cabinet, a decision is made to return the body, in accordance with the recommendations of the security and legal authorities. Minister Gatz will continue to pursue an uncompromising counter-terrorism policy, consistent with security, legal and public responsibility."
A security source said that the cases in which Gantz ordered the return of the body were exceptional, such as minors or cases of personal and mental situations that could not be specified, and subject to the criteria presented to the Supreme Court.
The source further explained that in the context of the recent individual attacks, there are more exceptional cases brought to Gantz's door. However, he stressed that in all cases where the bodies were returned, the terrorists had no organizational affiliation.