Israeli authorities postponed on Friday returning the body of slain Palestinian activist Basel al-Araj until further notice, the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said in statement.
According to the statement, Israel had announced on Thursday to return al-Araj’s body at a checkpoint near his home town of al-Walaja, near Bethlehem in the southern occupied West Bank Friday afternoon.
Al-Araj, 31, was killed by Israeli forces Monday in a two-hour shootout at a home in the outskirts of the Qaddura refugee camp, where al-Araj was staying.
The activist had been on the run from Israeli authorities since September, when he was released from Palestinian prison after being detained without charges or explanation for five months, during which he joined a hunger strike amid reports of torture and mistreatment.
Israeli police had accused al-Araj of being the “head of a terrorist cell that planned attacks against Israelis and security forces.”
Al-Araj’s killing has sparked outrage as some Palestinians have raised questions about the Israeli police narrative that it would have been difficult for al-Araj to return fire for two hours, noting that the house was completely riddled with Israeli bullets, and have highlighted that the man — well known in his community as an intellectual and an activist — did not fit the typical profile of an attacker.
Prominent left-wing Palestinian writer Khalid Barakat said on Tuesday that al-Araj was a “representation of the soul of the Palestinian youth” and a “revolutionary intellectual” in a statement released by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
Following al-Araj’s killing, protests erupted in Ramallah, with mourners holding up pictures of the slain activist while referring to him as the “martyr of security coordination.” According to Barakat, protests were also organized in Palestinian refugee camps across Lebanon, most notably in the Nahr al-Bared camp.
Though the Palestinian Red Crescent’s statement on Friday did not specify how long Israel planned on holding al-Araj’s body, Israeli authorities have dramatically escalated a policy of withholding Palestinian bodies killed by Israeli forces, claiming that funerals of Palestinians had provided grounds for “incitement” against the Israeli state.
However, the majority of bodies of Palestinians slain by Israeli forces have since been returned to their families, despite the Israeli security cabinet deciding in January that bodies of Palestinians affiliated with the Hamas movement who were killed while carrying out attacks against Israelis would be withheld indefinitely.
A joint statement released by Addameer and Israeli minority rights group Adalah last March condemned Israel’s practice of withholding bodies as “a severe violation of international humanitarian law as well as international human rights law, including violations of the right to dignity, freedom of religion, and the right to practice culture.”