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Blundering over dead bodies

Israel's refusal to hand the bodies of terrorists to their families panders to the right and increases the danger

The “Lone Wolf Intifada” (a.k.a Knife Intifada) has been going on for almost six months now, and if it’s possible to say one encouraging thing about it (and there are not many encouraging things to say), it’s that in recent weeks the violence has been on the downswing. The number of incidents has been going down each week, taking place now primarily on weekends, and the Palestinian public’s initial enthusiasm for the whole project is no longer what it was.

This decline in the number of suicide and terrorist attacks is the result of a long list of steps taken jointly and separately by the Israeli side and the Palestinian Authority. And if one thing is certain, it’s that refusing to return the bodies of terrorists killed in these attacks to their families for burial is not one of these helpful measures. On the contrary, it’s likely that this inflammatory and inciting step has been a cause for further attacks.

The Israeli defense establishment’s position against holding on to the bodies is rooted in a clear understanding that such a step does not bring calm to the field, but rather provides new excuses for attacks and violence. On this there is no dispute among the professionals. How, then, did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reach the decision he announced this week to hold on to the bodies?

From day one, the political leadership in Israel has been seeking magic solutions to the “lone wolf attack” phenomenon. One idea put forward by various political elements on the right was to hold onto the bodies. The security professionals — the army, the Shin Bet, etc. — objected, insisting it was a futile measure. A senior official also spoke out on the matter, calling it “utter nonsense.” But this was of little interest to the political echelon, including and especially the head of the Home Front Command, Minister Gilad Erdan. What the voters want the voters shall get, even if it means risking renewed escalation or starting a new round of attacks, this time for holding the bodies.

The Palestinian Authority is, of course, outraged over this. Palestinian security and political officials have tried countless times to warn their Israeli counterparts about the dangers inherent in such a step. Their Israeli counterparts understood this, but, again, in the face of the right’s criticism of the prime minister and defense minister in the context of their condemnation of the soldier who shot a wounded terrorist in Hebron, something had to be done to reassure the electorate. And it appears that something is the decision not to return bodies.

Proponents of the decision to hold the bodies claim they seek to stop funeral mass processions that whip up support for — and incitement of — terrorists. The problem is that holding the bodies also sparks rallies of hatred and incitement against Israel, and does nothing to prevent incitement by other means or continued attacks. In light of the current situation, political leaders will probably continue to try pulling the occasional magic solution out of their sleeves in hopes that something will stop the violence. Unfortunately, solutions of this kind are not only ineffective, they are harmful.

About the Author
Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.