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Thousands attend funeral of Palestinian teacher after Israel returns his body

Yaqub al-Qiyan’s killing spurred several large demonstrations across West Bank and Negev desert
Israeli authorities held onto Qiyan’s body for a week, but on Monday, they gave the body back to the family for burial after a tense legal battle (AFP)

Thousands of Palestinians on Tuesday attended Yaqub al-Qiyan’s funeral in the Bedouin town of Umm al-Hiran.

Qiyan, a local Palestinian teacher, was killed by Israeli police last week when authorities stormed the town to demolish homes to build a Jewish settlement.

Qiyan’s killing has spurred several large demonstrations across the West Bank and Negev desert.

Israeli authorities said that the teacher was shot after he deliberately rammed his car into a group of soldiers on Wednesday.

'Withholding his body for so long is torture for the family, as they are denied their right of laying to rest their deceased' - Sheikh Kamal Khatib

However, an autopsy on Qiyan showed that the first bullet hit his right leg, causing him to lose control, according to a report aired by Israel’s Channel 10 television station on Friday.

The second bullet hit his chest, causing severe internal bleeding. Qiyan was not given medical treatment, and bled to death at the scene after 20 minutes.

Israeli authorities held onto Qiyan’s body for a week, but on Monday, they gave the body back to the family for burial after a tense legal battle. The release came on the back of a week long negotiation in court in which Israeli authorities denied the family the right to bury Qiyan. Authorities had wanted to release the body on the condition that only family members would attend his funeral, fearing a mass gathering at the event.

“Withholding the body of martyr Yaqub al-Qiyan is an inhumane crime against human rights, as a deceased whose house was demolished and whose family [was] made homeless,” said Sheikh Kamal Khatib, the deputy head of the Islamic Movement.

“Withholding his body for so long is torture for the family, as they are denied their right of laying to rest their deceased. There is no word to explain such inhumane barbaric behaviour,” he added.

The legal battle quickly went up all the way to Israel’s Supreme Court, which accepted a petition against Israeli police from the legal aid groups Adalah and Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, which represented Yaqub al-Qiyan’s wife and Knesset member Taleb Abu Arar. The petition demanded the immediate release and handing over of the body of the deceased to his family for burial without any conditions.

Regarding the decision by the Supreme Court, Adalah said: “From the beginning we made it clear that the withholding of the body of Yaqub al-Qiyan by the police and negotiating his release is illegal. The police’s allegation is but a continuation of the policy of deceitfulness practised towards the Arab minority. Police continue to deal with Palestinian citizens as enemies; and so, the Supreme Court's decision affirms categorically that there is no legal basis for the approach taken by the police."

Ammar Qandeel, an activist who took part in the funeral and protests on Tuesday told Middle East Eye: “Palestinians today won in getting the rights of their martyr without accepting any conditions for his release. It was a massive funeral with Palestinian Arabs from across Israel as well as the rest of Palestine.”

Umm al-Hiran residents have witnessed an escalation of home demolitions as of late because Israel plans to build a Jewish settlement nearby.

Regarding the house demolitions in the Negev and Qalansawa, the expansion of settlements in the West Bank, and the tightening of the blockade in Gaza, Qadeel said: “It is all under the strategy of making Palestinians suffer and a continuation of what happened in the Nakba. The Zionist government is continuing its project of displacement which it began in 1948.”

“What is happening these days is a continuous escalation against Palestinians from all angles, and this is reflected in the current escalation by Palestinians in coming together to resist against this issue that unites them all,” Qandeel added.