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Israel withholds body of Palestinian leader Nasser Abu Hmeid

Israel withholds body of detained Palestinian leader Nasser Abu Hmeid
5 min read
West Bank
21 December, 2022
Palestinian leader Nasser Abu Hmeid died of cancer on Tuesday with anger in the occupied West Bank over Israel's decision to withhold his body.
Thousands of PAlestinians mourned Nasser Abu Hmeid in the West Bank on Tuesday [Qassam Muaddi /TNA]

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz ruled on Wednesday that his government will withhold the body of Palestinian prisoner, Nasser Abu Hmeid, who died of cancer early on Tuesday in an Israeli jail.

Gantz's decision follows a decades-long Israeli policy of withholding the bodies of Palestinian detainees.

It was interrupted at the end of the second Palestinian Intifada in 2005 but the policy was resumed in 2015.

Palestinians marched in several West Bank cities on Tuesday in mourning of Nasser Abu Hmeid [Qassam Muaddi /TNA]

Israel has withheld the bodies of around 118 Palestinians since 2015, which includes 11 Palestinian prisoners after Nasser Abu Hmeid's death.

On Tuesday, thousands of Palestinians mourned Abu Hmeid in Ramallah city with a general strike observed in most West Bank cities.

Hours after news of Abu Hmeid's death spread, hundreds of Palestinians gathered at Ramallah's main Lions' Square, before marching towards the Amaari refugee camp, where the deceased was originally from.

Thousands of mourners gathered at Ramallah's main Lions's Square and marched to Abu Hmeid's home place of the Amaari refugee camp [Qassam Muaddi /TNA]

Palestinian mourners continued to pour throughout the day into the Amaari camp, to honour Abu Hmeid's family, who lost an older son fighting Israel in the early 1990s with four other sons currently detained in Israeli jails.

"We [the family] have fought for Nasser's case since his illness started, and used his case to shed light on the cases of ill prisoners," his older brother, Naji Abu Hmeid, said in a speech, addressing mourners at the Amaari camp on Tuesday.

"In the same way, we will accept no condolences until [he] receives [a] proper burial, alongside all prisoners whose bodies are withheld in the occupation's fridges."

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Hussein Shijaiyah, a coordinator of a national campaign for the return of withheld Palestinian bodies, told The New Arab that Israel's policy was recently intensified.

"It is a form of collective punishment that leaves an open wound for families," said Shijaiyah.

"In the case of Nasser Abu Hmeid, it adds to the suffering of his years of illness and medical neglect."

Abu Hmeid was diagnosed with cancer in August 2021, after almost a year of deteriorating health.

Palestinians accused Israeli authorities of neglecting Abu Hmeid's health until it was too late.

"Nasser Abu Hmeid began to show a health deterioration in 2020, but the occupation authorities refused to perform the proper medical examinations until mid-2021," Ayah Shreiteh, spokesperson for the Palestinian Prisoners' Club, told The New Arab.

"In his late stages, the occupation's prison authority kept giving him painkillers, moving him back and forth between the Ramleh prison clinic and his cell, before his health deteriorated to the point that they had to move him to a civilian hospital, where he died."

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On Monday night, Israeli authorities allowed Abu Hmeid's family to visit him after he lost consciousness, hours before he died.

"The most difficult moment in all of Nasser's detention and illness was the last visit," his mother told The New Arab at the Amaari refugee camp.

"Despite the fact that he was agonising, it seemed as if the entire state of Israel was standing by his head," she said, referring to the Israeli guards at the Asaf Harofeh hospital.

"The most difficult moment in all of Nasser's detention was when I saw him in the last visit. Although he was agonizing it seemed like the entire state of Israel was standing by his head", said his mother [Qassam Muaddi /TNA]

Abu Hmeid’s mother received mourners in a tent installed by the family's old home, which was destroyed by Israeli forces in 2018.

Israeli forces had at the time accused Nasser's younger brother, Islam Abu Hmeid, of killing an Israeli soldier by dropping a large stone on him from the house's rooftop during an Israeli raid on the refugee camp.

Israeli forces had already demolished the family's home five times before.

"I was only six when Nasser was arrested," his younger brother, Jihad Abu Hmeid, told The New Arab. "I was later arrested and shared his cell in the occupation’s jails."

He said Nasser acted like a father to younger prisoners, "giving us encouragement, caring after everybody, always showing good humor".

"Everybody should have done more to save Nasser," the brother said. "The Palestinian Authority could have pressured more, Hamas also could have included him in the prisoners' swap for Gilad Shalit. All he wished for in his last days was to die in our mothers' arms."

"We will accept no condolences until Nasser is given a proper burial", said his brother [Qassam Muaddi /TNA]

Abu Hmeid was given seven life sentences in 2002 after he co-founded Fatah’s armed wing during the second Intifada, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades.

Masked gunmen from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades appeared among the crowd of mourners on Tuesday, saluting Abu Hmeid by firing shots into the air. The gunmen read a statement, in which they pledged revenge for Abu Hmeid's death.

Members of Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades appeared at Nasser Abu Hmeid's mourning in Ramallah and pledged revenge [Qassam Muadi /TNA]

In September, Nasser Abu Hmeid penned a letter to the Palestinian prisoner leader Marwan Barghouthi.

"I am in my last days now, and I address my love to our great homeland and its heroic people," Abu Hamid’s letter read. "I wish to remind you of my hopes and the hopes of all our martyrs so that you continue to safeguard them as you always have."

Currently, some 4,700 Palestinians are being held in Israeli jails, including 600 sick Palestinians.

Some 200 of them have chronic diseases and 24 different types of tumors, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club.