When Hisham Abu Naise arrived at the morgue to bid farewell to his son Muhammad, hours after he had been killed by Israeli troops, he was in such a state of shock that he didn’t notice the black flag of Islamic Jihad draped over his body.
Mr. Abu Naise kissed the forehead of his 27-year-old son and whispered, “I’m here, my son, I’m here,” unaware that the armed Palestinian group had already claimed him as one of its martyrs — even though he wasn’t a member.
Outside the morgue, he said, a representative of Fatah, the party that controls the Palestinian Authority, pulled him aside, and asked: “Do you want to keep him Islamic Jihad or do you want him to be Fatah?”
Mr. Abu Naise, 48, was shocked. “‘My son wasn’t Islamic Jihad or Fatah,’” he told the man.
This year has been the deadliest for Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank since 2005, with at least 166 killed. Of the Palestinians killed, the majority have been civilians, according to the United Nations and Palestinian human rights groups. Israel stepped up its military raids in the spring when Palestinian assailants killed 19 Israelis and foreigners, most of them civilians, in five attacks between March and May, the worst spate of killings in years.
The high Palestinian death toll has cast a fresh light on the practice of armed and political Palestinian groups claiming as members or publicly honoring all those killed by Israel, one that blurs the distinction between civilians and armed fighters. It is a tradition that some families object to, saying they don’t want loved ones used for political purposes.
Mr. Abu Naise said he raised his two sons to stay away from the armed Palestinian resistance groups fighting against Israeli occupation. His eldest, Muhammad, spent his days working as a civil servant in city government and nights as a barista, to support his wife and two young children.
Now he was dead, killed on the street by Israeli troops conducting a raid in Jenin, according to the Palestinian authorities.
“The Israeli army doesn’t distinguish between civilian or fighter. This year we’re all at risk of a bullet striking us,” Mr. Abu Naise said.
Every Palestinian killed by Israel is considered a martyr by the community, reflecting a widespread view that each Palestinian is part of a resistance to decades of occupation by Israel. But the rush by armed groups to claim those killed as martyrs worries some Palestinians, who feel it is being used by Israel to justify raids even when civilians are the victims.
“Israel could use what is essentially a community and political practice to shroud the fact that they are killing Palestinian civilians,” said Yara Hawari, a senior analyst at Al Shabaka, a Palestinian research group. “It allows Israel to kill civilians with impunity.”
The Israeli army said its security forces took significant measures to reduce harm to civilians and “use live fire after all other options are exhausted.”