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  • ACRI

Ritual Purification Centers for Arab COVID Victims

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) today submitted a petition to the Supreme Court concerning the establishment of ritual purification centers for deceased Arab citizens from all three religions (Muslim, Christian, and Druze) who were confirmed or suspected COVID carriers. The petition also calls for the opening of a telephone hotline in Arabic and for assistance for the families of victims from the date of death through the removal of the body and its transfer to the proposed purification centers pending burial.

To date, four purification centers intended for the Jewish population only have been established through the Forum of Major Burial Societies in Israel; funding of NIS 6.5 million was provided for these centers from state funds. The centers were established due to growing information suggesting a risk of infection from bodies, noting that if the relevant Ministry of Health guidelines are followed, it is possible to undertake the ritual purification of deceased COVID victims without endangering those performing this function.

By contrast, only one center has been established for the Arab population, by the A-Nur Association in Umm al-Fahm; the center is intended solely for COVID victims who are residents of Umm al-Fahm.

Ritual purification of the body is a religious commandment in Islam and in the Druze religion, while among Christians it is a well-established social, cultural, and religious custom.

ACRI has received testimonies suggesting that due to the lack of purification centers for the Arab populations, some families have decided to observe the religious commandment and undertake purification by themselves, despite the risk this entails. Other families who did not perform the purification rituals have been forced to cope with profound discomfort due to the failure to observe the religious commandment.

The failure to provide a burial system for non-Jewish citizens is not a new phenomenon. The State Comptroller’s report from March 2020 concerning the burial system in Israel mentioned in general terms the failure to arrange the field of burial services for non-Jews, and emphasized that the various government ministries are obliged to act to organize this field promptly – among other reasons, since the burden of preparing the deceased for burial in all its aspects is borne mainly by the families themselves.

In light of the rising number of COVID cases and deaths, the state must accept responsibility for this subject and establish ritual purification centers enabling Arab citizens to observe their religious commandments and social customs. The state should also establish a telephone hotline providing information for families about matters concerning the burial of relatives who died of COVID.

Attorneys Abir Joubran Dakwar and Sana Ibn Bari: “The time has come to address the failure to organize the issue of burial in Arab society. The practical reality reveals a sad picture of clear discrimination between Jewish deceased persons and those from other religions based on their national and religious affiliation. The situation seriously violates the rights of deceased Arabs and their families to receive the services they are entitled to as citizens of the state. This discrimination conveys a message of rejection and exclusion toward non-Jews and toward the Arab population in particular.”

HCJ 5442/20

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