Gaza: Scarred, ruined, and silenced by death

With Israel dropping 6,500 bombs in a week, the number the US used in Afghanistan in a year, the people of Gaza focus only on recognising the dead.

Published : Oct 28, 2023 20:04 IST - 8 MINS READ

People search for survivors and the bodies of victims through the rubble of buildings destroyed by Israeli bombardment of Khan Yunis town, in southern Gaza Strip, on October 26.

People search for survivors and the bodies of victims through the rubble of buildings destroyed by Israeli bombardment of Khan Yunis town, in southern Gaza Strip, on October 26. | Photo Credit: MAHMUD HAMS/AFP

In the war-torn Gaza Strip, parents have taken to inscribing children’s arms with their names, a poignant act aimed at ensuring that the children can be identified should they fall victim to the continuing Israeli air strikes.

And it is not just children who are being marked for identification. Amid fears of being interred in unmarked graves, adults too are ensuring that they carry some form of identification on their person. On the rare occasions when stores briefly open amid the continual bombings, residents scramble to purchase bracelets engraved with their initials. Their primary concern is to be recognised posthumously so that they receive a proper burial.

After witnessing entire families, of up to 55 members, get wiped out by the air strikes, Ali El-Daba, 40, decided on a heart-wrenching move: he dispersed his family across the Gaza Strip. Now his wife, Lina, 42, stays with two sons in the north of Gaza city, while he and his daughter are in Khan Yunis, to the south.

The Facebook posts written by Hiba Abu Nada, a Palestinian writer, days before she was killed by an Israeli air strike, are harrowing. “If we die, know that we are content and steadfast, and let them know that we are the righteous,” says a post on October 18. “We are in Gaza before God…. We are all waiting for your promise of truth,” she posted on October 20, before the page fell silent.

Palestinians injured in Israeli air raids arrive at Nasser Medical Hospital in Khan Yunis town in southern Gaza, on October 27.

Palestinians injured in Israeli air raids arrive at Nasser Medical Hospital in Khan Yunis town in southern Gaza, on October 27. | Photo Credit: Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images

Spectre of death

All the 2 million residents of this densely populated enclave live under the ominous shadow of death. As one grief-stricken mother, mourning the loss of her son, said: “Every single moment, all of us are bracing for the spectre of death.”

In one heart-rending instance, when Israel ordered North Gaza to be evacuated, a family that heeded the call and began relocating southward found its convoy targeted. They spent a perilous night on the southern roads but faced fresh Israeli bombardment. Finally, they made the agonising decision to return north, deciding that they would at least be near home when the end came.

The aftermath of the bombings is evident all over Gaza. Scarred and ruined cityscapes, countless unmarked graves, countless bodies mutilated and laid to rest in pieces.

Tamer Hamam cannot fathom his feeling of helplessness. His friend needed water, but he could not help her as bombs rained over the city. “It is not easy to receive a message like this from your beloved ones, and you cannot do anything to help,” he said. Gaza’s hospital system is collapsing: 12 hospitals and 32 health centres are out of service, according to the Ministry of Health. The authorities fear that the number will increase in the coming days as they run out of fuel and the air strikes continue.

Also Read | ‘The root of the problem is the occupation’: Moussa Abu Marzouk

For journalists covering the conflict, the biggest challenge has been to hold back the tears in the face of their own personal losses. For instance, Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Gaza, Wael Al-Dahdouh, lost his wife, son, daughter, and grandson in an Israeli air strike on October 25. He returned to work the next day, saying: “It is my duty.” Twenty-three journalists have been killed so far.

Noor Harazeen, a Palestinian journalist in Gaza, said: “Two days ago, Israeli warplanes simultaneously targeted two buildings in Deir Al-Balah. Many people died; many of them were children. I saw things I have never, ever seen before. Some of the children reminded me of my own kids. I have two; they are twins, five years old. They don’t fully understand what is going on. They think we are taking a trip or something.”

  • The 2 million residents of Gaza live in constant fear due to the ongoing conflict, with devastating consequences for their city and lives.
  • The aftermath of bombings is visible everywhere in Gaza, leaving behind ruined cityscapes, unmarked graves, and countless casualties, including journalists who have paid a heavy price.
  • The year 2023 has been one of the deadliest for Palestine since 2005, with widespread destruction of housing units and a significant loss of life due to air strikes.

Bombings and aftermath

The aftermath of the bombings is evident all over Gaza. Scarred and ruined cityscapes, countless unmarked graves, countless bodies mutilated and laid to rest in pieces.

While Palestine has hardly known much peace, 2023 has been the bloodiest year since 2005. At the moment of writing this piece, the toll in Gaza Strip was 6,546 dead and more than 17,450 injured. Besides, there have been more than 100 deaths in the West Bank since the war began. Here, attacks from Jewish settlers have increased, with the backing of the Israeli army. Bulldozers have been coming at whim to demolish Palestinian homes.

In fact, before the Hamas attack, it was the West Bank that was quivering under tension. The increased aggression of Jewish settlers, the continuing apartheid, the incursion into Al Aqsa [Mosque], the Israeli-Saudi talks—the air was thick with suppressed anger, and people were predicting an explosion of some sort. Netanyahu had reinforced the military’s presence in the West Bank.

After an Israeli air strike in the northern part of the Gaza Strip on October 28, as seen from near the southern Israeli city of Sderot. 

After an Israeli air strike in the northern part of the Gaza Strip on October 28, as seen from near the southern Israeli city of Sderot.  | Photo Credit: ARIS MESSINIS/AFP

So, the October 7 Hamas attack from the Gaza Strip seems to have surprised both sides. The attack by Al Qassam Brigades, the military arm of Hamas, signals a significant shift in the status quo. Using motorbikes, tractors, and paragliders, Hamas attacked Israeli housing settlements in Kfar Aza, Be’eri, Nahal Oz, and Magen, confronting one of world’s most sophisticated armies.

Mohammad Al Dayif, the leader of Al Qassam Brigades, stated that the act of resistance was a direct response to the violence by Israeli settlers against people in the West Bank, the continued occupation of Gaza, and the police raid on Al Aqsa Mosque and clashes with worshippers.

Israeli provocation

Since the year began, Israeli settlers and officials have engaged in provocative attacks on the Al Aqsa Mosque, with settlers and soldiers storming the mosque on Jewish religious days, preventing Muslims from entering it for prayers. Al Qassam issued several notices to Israel asking it to stop desecrating the mosque and humiliating Palestinians at its gates, to no avail. Israeli retaliation against Gaza in the wake of the recent attack has been extreme. “Israel unloaded approximately 6,500 bombs on densely populated areas within a week, a number rivalling what the US used in one year in Afghanistan,” reported Marc Garlasco of PAX for Peace, a Dutch peace organisation that works to protect civilians against acts of war. From 100 fatalities a day, the number jumped to 400 a day on October 23 and 24.

In the wake of the October 7 attack, over 1,000 Palestinians were imprisoned across the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Palestine. Some of them have since died in prison, with Palestinians claiming police torture and custodial killing. Currently, over 10,000 Palestinians are in detention.

The Gaza war: Journalists killed
Mohammed Imad Labad | Al Resalah news website | October 23
Roshdi Sarraj | co-founder, Ain Media, Palestinian media company | October 22
Mohammed Ali | Al-Shabab Radio (Youth Radio) | October 20
Khalil Abu Aathra | videographer, Al-Aqsa TV | October 19
Sameeh Al-Nady | journalist and director, Al-Aqsa TV | October 18
Mohammad Balousha | journalist and manager of Palestine Today media channel in Gaza | October 17
Issam Bhar | journalist, Al-Aqsa TV | October 17
Abdulhadi Habib | journalist, Al-Manara News Agency and HQ News Agency | October 16
Yousef Maher Dawas | contributing writer, Palestine Chronicle, and writer for We Are Not Numbers, a youth-led Palestinian nonprofit | October 14
Salam Mema | head of the Women Journalists Committee at Palestinian Media Assembly | October 13
Husam Mubarak | journalist for Al Aqsa Radio | October 13
Issam Abdallah | Beirut-based videographer for Reuters | October 13
Ahmed Shehab | journalist, Sowt Al-Asra Radio (Radio Voice of the Prisoners) | October 12
Mohamed Fayez Abu Matar | freelance photojournalist | October 11
Saeed al-Taweel | editor-in-chief, Al-Khamsa news website | October 9
Mohammed Sobh | photographer, “Khabar” news agency | October 9
Hisham Alnwajha | journalist, “Khabar” news agency | October 9
Assaad Shamlakh | freelance journalist | October 8
Shai Regev | an editor with Ma’ariv, Hebrew-language daily newspaper | October 7
Ayelet Arnin | news editor, Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation | October 7
Yaniv Zohar | Israeli photographer working for the Hebrew-language daily newspaper Israel Hayom | October 7
Mohammad Al-Salhi | photojournalist, Fourth Authority news agency | October 7
Mohammad Jarghoun | journalist, Smart Media | October 7
Ibrahim Mohammad Lafi | photographer, Ain Media | October 7
Source: CPJ

Israel revoked the work permits of some 5,000 Gazan labourers, who have migrated to the West Bank to find temporary shelter in schools and public facilities. However, many have been taken prisoner in Israeli raids on these shelters. Nasser Al Farran, a worker from Gaza City now in the West Bank, struggles to stay in touch with his family. “I am not sure whether I’ll ever see my family again,” he said.

Visiting families have also found themselves trapped. An Australian-Palestinian family’s home was destroyed in an air strike. The head of the family recounted the struggle to provide basic necessities for his children in the chaos.

Destruction of homes

Despite Israel’s proclamations about targeting only Hamas and not Palestinian civilians, the ground reality is different. According to the media office of the Palestinian government, more than 1,83,000 housing units have been affected by the air strikes, with more than 28,000 units fully demolished. Some 177 schools have been damaged, while the raids continue to target and decommission water, electricity, and sanitation systems. Besides, 35 mosques and three churches have been hit.

Experts, including from Israel, have criticised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s provocative actions, which they say have exacerbated tensions. An Amnesty International report highlighted these issues, emphasising the systematic discrimination against and neglect of Palestinians.

Also Read | How Israel-Hamas war will change West Asia’s political landscape

Israel now depends on a prolonged, intensive series of air strikes to kill a large number of Palestinians, while delaying the ground invasion. For Palestinians, a ground invasion will be a golden opportunity to put up resistance since on-ground battle is not the Israeli army’s strength.

Israeli army generals know well that the losses will be enormous if they invade the enclave, with its complex and highly populated urban landscape that makes it nearly impossible for any military activity to succeed. Also, Israel’s aim of destroying Hamas is unlikely to fructify because for many Palestinians, Hamas represents a project of resistance and a liberation movement. The Palestinians continue to believe in the resistance and want it to continue as they consider it the only defender of their rights.

As Nihal Abu-Sittah, a doctor with Médecins Sans Frontières in Gaza, said: “The aim is to crush the Palestinian spirit and force them to accept the constraints.”

Salam Abu Sharar is a Palestinian freelance journalist and blogger based in Ramallah, West Bank, who contributes to Middle East Eye, Al Jazeera, and Turkey’s Anadolu Agency.

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