A Declaration Regarding Respect for the Bodies of the Deceased

As religious leaders and scholars, please join us in endorsing the declaration below.

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We, the undersigned faith leaders of the three primary monotheistic religions native to the Holy Land, declare in no uncertain terms that the bodies of fallen combatants, including enemies, should be treated with respect and afforded a proper burial. They must not be held as bargaining chips or used to collectively punish and torment their families. This is a moral and ethical requirement of all three religious traditions, applying to all parties involved, and is not simply a position based on political expediency. It is likewise required by secular international law and the provisions of Article 17 of the Geneva Convention. The practice of withholding the bodies of one’s enemies as bargaining chips, by Israel or Hamas, as well as the current Israeli policy of withholding the bodies of Palestinian combatants to punish families—in the name of both deterrence and collective punishment—is particularly abhorrent and unacceptable.

In Judaism, says Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, refusing to return bodies to their families absolutely contradicts the core Jewish value of upholding human dignity in all circumstances. Furthermore, according to Jewish law, the burial of corpses requires same day burial (Deuteronomy 21:23) and was interpreted by sages like Nachmanides to include the bodies of enemy combatants. Ultimately, refusing to return the bodies of the deceased to family members for burial destroys the possibility of peacemaking between combatant societies, because disrespecting the dead is a deeply traumatic event that prevents reconciliation.

In Christianity, says Rev. Naim Ateek, we believe that God, our Creator, has endowed every human being with dignity and self-worth. God breathes life into all humans. We believe that God created us in His image and has given us the breath of life. Therefore, our faith inspires us to respect the dignity which God has given to all humans, whether living or dead. Any act that dehumanizes and degrades any person must be totally rejected and resisted.

Rev. Alex Awad elaborates further that we are taught to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and do to others what we wish others to do to us. This applies not only to the living but also to the captured corpses of our enemies. We need to handle the corpses of enemy fighters with respect because we are taught that each of us is created in the image of God. Even if a human is dead, he or she continues to reflect that image. Finally, a corpse cannot fight back or pose a threat. Hence, why retaliate or show contempt towards a lifeless body that can neither feel your retaliation nor cause you any further harm?

Islam, says Imam Zafer Bangash, accords great value to human dignity. God grants rights to all human beings—referred to in the Qur’ān as “God’s representatives on earth” (Al-Baqarah 30)—from before one is born, throughout their life, and even after death. Dead or alive, the human body—created by God in perfect shape—must be given dignity and respect. The importance of this is illustrated in the Qur’ān (Al-Ma'idah 31). There, it is narrated that when Cain was unsure of how to deal with the body of his brother Abel—whom he had murdered—God sent a message in the form of a raven. God used the raven to dig into the ground to bury another raven, thus indirectly showing Cain how to bury his brother’s body.

Chief Sunni Court Judge, Shiekh Muhammad Abu Zeid, elaborates further: In addition to prohibiting harm done to non-combatants (Al-Baqarah 190), promoting peaceful solutions to conflict (Al-Anfal 61), and demanding the proper treatment of prisoners (Muhammad 4), the Quran specifically prohibits the desecration of the bodies of enemies (Al-Nahal 126) or leaving the bodies of enemies in the open and unburied. This was precisely the example of the Prophet Mohammad himself after the battle of Bader (Bukhari 3976; Muslim 2875). Islamic teachings confirm the necessity of preventing unjustified wars and the necessity of preventing savage acts, which affect the souls of the living and the bodies of the dead alike.

In each religion, therefore, the dignity of the bodies of fallen combatants must be respected for deep ethical, scriptural, and theological reasons. The corpses of our enemies should not be allowed to become pawns in a political struggle, causing anguish to families and festering hatred between peoples. 

We therefore call on all parties to respect these principles. And, we particularly call on Israel to discontinue this inhumane practice and return the dead bodies of its enemies to their families to receive a proper, dignified burial.

853 endorsements

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  • Mark Soenksen
    endorsed 2021-11-22 17:20:39 -0800
  • Jeannie Finlay-Kochanowski
    endorsed 2021-11-22 17:20:33 -0800
  • Jackie Pomies
    endorsed 2021-11-22 17:20:28 -0800
  • Sherry Bupp
    endorsed 2021-11-22 17:20:25 -0800
  • Meryl Crean
    endorsed 2021-11-22 14:37:25 -0800
  • Nahida H Gordon
    Interfaith Council for Peace in the Middle East endorsed 2021-11-22 14:25:38 -0800
  • Michael Wallens
    St. Paul's Episcopal Church endorsed via 2021-11-22 13:18:13 -0800
  • Rev. Martha Stone
    endorsed 2021-11-22 12:02:40 -0800
  • Glenn Ramsey
    endorsed 2021-11-22 11:31:28 -0800
  • Elice Higginbotham
    endorsed 2021-11-22 11:07:46 -0800
  • John Taylor
    endorsed 2021-11-22 10:39:20 -0800
  • Darrel Meyers
    endorsed 2021-11-22 10:21:52 -0800
    This practice is yet another example Israel’s inflicting more suffering and pain in addition to long-continuing suppression and more by way of taking yet more of this indigenous, virtually unarmed people’s Lands, Livelihoods and Lives! This must Stop!!
  • Nathan Dannison
    endorsed 2021-11-22 10:20:08 -0800
  • E Clifford Cutler
    endorsed 2021-11-22 09:12:26 -0800
  • Lucia Pizarro
    Jewish Liberation Theology Institute endorsed 2021-11-22 09:12:19 -0800
  • Michael Spath
    Indiana Center for Middle East Peace endorsed 2021-11-22 08:31:21 -0800
  • Rev. Marcia L. Hoffman
    endorsed 2021-11-22 08:07:59 -0800
  • Travis West
    endorsed 2021-11-22 08:04:21 -0800
  • Laurie Zimmerman
    endorsed 2021-11-22 07:48:48 -0800
  • John Anderson Rev Dr
    Israel/Palestine Mission Network PC(USA) Bay Area endorsed 2021-11-22 07:40:34 -0800
  • chad collins
    endorsed 2021-11-22 07:39:03 -0800
  • Rev. Robert And Maurine Tobin
    endorsed 2021-11-22 07:32:41 -0800
  • chad collins
    valley view Presbyterian church endorsed 2021-11-22 07:15:50 -0800
    God speed your justice!!
  • Brian Walt
    endorsed 2021-11-22 07:10:53 -0800
    In gratitude for this urgent interfaith affirmation of the sanctity of all life, a cardinal principle of all religions.
  • Philip Farah
    Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace endorsed 2021-11-22 05:57:24 -0800
  • Jessica Rosenberg
    endorsed 2021-11-22 05:24:06 -0800
  • Alissa Wise
    endorsed 2021-11-22 05:08:35 -0800
  • Rev. Alex Awad
    endorsed 2021-11-21 21:43:24 -0800
  • William Aldrich
    endorsed 2021-11-21 18:24:26 -0800
  • Pauline M Coffman
    endorsed 2021-11-21 18:21:50 -0800

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