DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) – This was neither the place nor the time to say goodbye, Omar Dirawi said. Not here, in this dusty field littered with dead people wrapped in blankets and zipped up in body bags. And not now, as Israeli airstrikes descend around him for a third week, further obliterating his neighborhood and destroying hundreds of families and friends.
Yet this week in October, in Zawaideh, a central Gaza town, the 22-year-old Palestinian photojournalist buried 32 members of his family who were killed in Israeli air raids last Sunday.
Dirawi’s aunts, uncles and cousins, originally from Gaza City, had obeyed the Israeli army’s evacuation orders and took refuge in his home further south. Days later, Dirawi was unloading their bodies from the back of a truck, digging a narrow trench divided by cinderblocks and reciting abbreviated funeral prayers before nightfall, when Israeli warplanes screamed and all the world ran inside.
“There’s nothing good about it,” Dirawi said of the mass burial. “I haven’t even mourned. But I had no choice. The cemetery was full and there was no more room.
Palestinians say this war deprives them not only of their loved ones, but also of funeral rites that have long offered mourners some dignity and closure amid unbearable grief. Israeli strikes killed so many people so quickly that they overwhelmed hospitals and morgues, making normal death rituals virtually impossible.
And to all that was stolen by the bombings, the Palestinians added another loss on Saturday: cellular and Internet services. A few Gazans who managed to communicate with the outside world said people could no longer call ambulances or know if their loved ones living in different buildings were still alive.
Since October 7, when Hamas launched an unprecedented bloody attack on Israel, the Israeli army’s response has left more than 7,700 Palestinians dead, the Gaza-based Health Ministry said. Among the dead, the press release added, nearly 300 have not been identified. Fear and panic spread Saturday as Israel expanded its ground incursions and intensified its bombardment.
An estimated 1,700 people remain trapped under the rubble as Israeli air raids hamper and imperil civil defense workers, one of whom was killed during a rescue mission on Friday. It sometimes takes several days for doctors to recover the bodies. The corpses are then often too swollen and disfigured to be recognizable.
“Hundreds of people are being killed every day,” said Inas Hamdan, head of communications for the Gaza-based UN agency for Palestinian refugees. “The whole system in Gaza is overwhelmed. People take care of the dead as best they can.
Overcrowded cemeteries forced families to dig up long-buried bodies and deepen the holes. This is how survivors buried Bilal al-Hour, a professor at Gaza’s Al Aqsa University, and 25 members of his family killed Friday in airstrikes that razed their four-story home in Deir al-Balah.
Al-Hour’s brother, Nour, exhumed his family’s old plots in the local cemetery on Friday to place the newly deceased. His hands dark with grave earth, he became breathless as he listed each relative descended into the ground.
“There is Bilal’s son with his wife and children, his other younger son and of course his daughter who finished high school last year and was supposed to become a doctor,” he said before interrupt yourself and quote the Koran. “To Allah we belong and to Him will be our return.”
Overflowing morgues forced hospitals to bury people before their loved ones could collect them. Gravediggers dumped dozens of unidentified bodies side by side in two large excavated furrows in Gaza City, containing 63 and 46 bodies respectively, said Mohammed Abu Selmia, director general of Shifa Hospital.
The nightmare of ending up in the form of an anonymous body piled up in a morgue or thrown into the ground increasingly haunts Palestinians in Gaza.
To increase the chances of being identified in the event of a death, Palestinian families began wearing identification bracelets and scribbling names with a marker on their children’s arms and legs.
In some cases, the bodies have decomposed so much that they are unrecognizable, even to their loved ones. In other cases, no family members survive to claim the dead.
“We see this often in the course of our work, even on Thursday evening in Gaza City, when 200 people were killed, there were names and identification numbers written in ink on the bodies of the children,” said Mahmoud Basal, spokesman for the Palestinian Civil Defense. “It’s a pain I can’t describe, seeing this.”
Gaza’s Ministry of Awqaf, in charge of religious issues, now advocates hasty burials and authorizes the construction of mass graves due to “the large number of people killed and the limited space available.” Each governorate in Gaza has at least two mass graves. , according to the authorities, some detain more than 100 people.
In the crowded Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza on Wednesday, a violent barrage of Israeli airstrikes razed an entire city block – about 20 multi-story buildings – killing 150 people and trapping more beneath the ruins, residents said. The survivors, shocked by the shells, staggered out of the hospital, not knowing what to do with the dead.
“We have neither time to do anything nor space anywhere,” said Khalid Abdou, 52, from the camp. “All we can do is dig a big hole with our hands. Then we throw the bodies inside.
On Thursday, residents of Nuseirat examined dozens of bloodstained body bags laid out outside the Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, looking for familiar faces, Abdou said. Workers labeled some body bags as “unknown” before throwing them into mass graves. The families were buried together.
While trying to sleep, Abdou said he heard noises from that night – the thunder of the explosion mixing with screams of shock and children’s cries.
But what bothers him most, he says, is the thought that no one washed the bodies of the dead or changed their clothes before burial. No one wrapped his body lovingly, as is the custom in Islam, or held a poignant service.
And certainly no one served the traditional bitter coffee and sweet dates to friends and relatives offering their condolences.
“In Islam, we have three days of mourning. But you can’t observe that now,” Abdou said. “Before the mourning ends, you will probably be dead too.”
DeBre reported from Jerusalem.
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