Mourning a dead brother without his body

Dec 02, 2016
Khaled Bahar, 15, with his younger sister, before he was shot dead by Israeli forces on October 20, 2016. (Photo: Bahar family)

Ramallah, December 2, 2016—“Everyone loved Khaled, and he loved them back,” said the father of Khaled Bahar, who was 15 when Israeli forces fatally shot him on October 20, in the West Bank town of Beit Ummar. All three of the siblings he left behind, especially his youngest sister, Remas, have struggled to cope with the loss of their brother.

“His relationship with his young sister, Remas, was very special,” Bahar Khaled Bahar, Khaled’s father, told Defense for Children International-Palestine. “She was attached to him because he used to buy her things almost every day from school or take her to the grocery store. She misses him badly.”

Khaled had asked for some spending money before going out on October 20, around 4:30 p.m., according to his father. An hour later, Bahar heard a commotion in their neighborhood in Beit Ummar, north of the West Bank city of Hebron, and quickly learned that Israeli forces had shot and killed his son.

Neither Khaled’s parents nor his siblings have been allowed to view his body, even for identification purposes. Six weeks after his death, Khaled’s body remains in Israeli authorities’ custody, despite the Bahar family’s repeated requests.

“We have not stopped asking for his body to be handed over,” Bahar’s father told DCIP. “We hope to find the truth and get a conviction for the soldiers who killed my son. But for now, all we can think of is recovering his body and burying it.”

Israeli authorities were due to turn over Khaled’s body the day after the shooting. However, they withheld the body to conduct an investigation.

By October 26, an internal investigation determined that Khaled did not pose a mortal threat to Israeli soldiers at the time he was killed. It concluded that in this case, and several others, Israeli soldiers could have responded differently.

Notwithstanding the conclusion of this investigation and the release of its findings, Khaled’s body has yet to be returned to his family.

”They killed him unjustly without a convincing reason, but that is not enough,” Bahar said. “They want to keep his body and refuse to hand it over to us.”

A paramedic with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society who arrived at the scene shortly after Khaled was shot told DCIP that he was not permitted to place Khaled, who showed no signs of life, in his ambulance. “We tried to take him on the stretcher, but the soldiers stopped us. We argued with them, and then a senior officer arrived and asked us to leave.”

Khaled is the 20th child fatality from the Hebron governorate to be documented by DCIP since hostilities broke out in October 2015, five of which occurred since September 16 of this year. In six of these cases, Israeli forces seized the children’s bodies after killing them.

According to local media, Israel has “dramatically escalated” the practice of withholding the bodies of alleged Palestinian attackers, since October 2015. The Ramallah-based Palestinian Prisoners Society reported that Israel has withheld at least 130 Palestinian bodies in 2016.

World-over, burial is a common ritual for showing respect for the departed and an important part of the mourning process. While regional practices vary, Islamic customs generally call for swift burials, usually within 24 hours of someone’s passing.

When a dead person’s body is withheld, it delays the burial, “forcing religious transgressions of mourning relatives,” said Salwa Baker Hammad, spokesperson for the Palestinian National Committee for Retrieving Bodies of Martyrs, in an interview last year.

Psychologists theorize that being unable to bury the body of a loved one can complicate or delay the grieving process, causing confusion and an inability to comprehend the death or begin the process of saying goodbye.

Bahar said it has been hard for his children to move on. “She [Remas] is always missing him and asking about him.”

“People need to see the body and participate in rituals to break down denial, and cognitively begin to cope and grieve,” writes Pauline Boss, professor at University of Minnesota and former visiting professor at Harvard University.

After a period of absence, Khaled’s grieving siblings have gone back to school. “We are trying to be strong and move on,” Bahar said. “All we ask is to retrieve his body and bury him.”


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