Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Jerusalem Journal: Efforts Underway to Trace Hundreds of Palestinian MIAs in Israel

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Jerusalem Journal: Efforts Underway to Trace Hundreds of Palestinian MIAs in Israel

Article excerpt

Jerusalem Journal: Efforts Underway to Trace Hundreds of Palestinian MIAs in Israel

The telephone rings and yet another Palestinian family hears the news that their missing son, husband or brother may still be alive, held in one of the Israeli prisons. A rumor or is there some truth behind it?

Until the past few months, little was heard about the hundreds of cases of missing Palestinians, some of which date back as far as 1958, although the majority are MIAs from the 1967 war. No one is able to determine the exact number of Palestinians missing due to war, military operations or intifada activities. Nor can anyone be sure what happened to them.

It is only recently that the families have felt encouraged to report their loved ones missing. Prior to the signing of the Declaration of Principles, they were afraid of what the Israeli government might do to them if they made their cases public. Now the issue is becoming a subject of interest for both the Palestinian and Israeli press.

Recently, a picture appeared in the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot of a cemetery located near the Adam Bridge in the northern Jordan Valley. The graveyard, surrounded by a high stone wall, has a sign hanging outside its entrance, on which its name, "The Cemetery of the Fallen Enemy" is painted in red. It is the burial place of as many as 200 Palestinian activists, killed while trying to cross into the West Bank from Jordan or during the intifada. The headstones carry only numbers; the identities are a mystery to all except the Israeli army.

In an effort to obtain information about their missing family members, some Palestinians have turned to human rights organizations such as HaMoked, an Israeli association located in East Jerusalem. Such is the case of the Sawareh family, who left Palestine for Jordan in 1967.

Issa Sawareh's mother says that her son joined the Palestinian liberation forces when he was only 16 years old. Later she was told that Issa had taken part in a military operation in 1990, possibly in the Israeli-controlled "security zone" of south Lebanon. Subsequently, a Lebanese newspaper reported that three fedayeen were killed during that operation.

Unexpectedly, in 1993, Issa's mother received news that her son was being held in Ashkelon Prison on the Israeli coast. She immediately crossed the Allenby Bridge from Jordan to see what she could discover about her son. To facilitate her hunt, she contacted HaMoked volunteers. They searched the Israeli prison system in vain for the young man, and then concluded that he likely was one of the three killed that night.

After HaMoked appealed to the Israeli High Court, the Israeli army furnished photos of the three persons who died in the 1990 Lebanon operation. Issa's mother went to the Allenby Bridge, between Jordan and the West Bank, where she was met by HaMoked's lawyer and a nurse. The lawyer asked her if she could identify one of the men in the pictures as her son.

The mother was unable to make a positive identification, however, due to the poor quality of the photos. So in an effort to identify the body, which the Israeli authorities call Corpse 245, a blood sample was taken from the woman. Later, blood was also drawn from her sick husband and transported to Jerusalem.

Presently, the Israeli human rights organization is demanding that the Israeli authorities exhume the body so that a positive identification can be made through DNA and blood testing. …

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