The Tragic Loss of Funeral Rites in Gaza’s War
In the midst of the devastating conflict between Israel and Palestine, the people of Gaza are not only mourning the loss of their loved ones but also the loss of traditional funeral rites that provide some solace and closure in times of grief. The relentless Israeli airstrikes have claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinians, overwhelming hospitals and morgues and making it nearly impossible to carry out proper burial rituals.
The war has left Omar Dirawi, a 22-year-old Palestinian photojournalist, burying 32 members of his family who were killed in Israeli air raids. His relatives had sought refuge in his home after receiving evacuation orders from the Israeli military. With no space left in the cemetery, Dirawi had to dig a narrow trench and perform abbreviated funeral prayers before the next round of airstrikes forced everyone to seek shelter.
The sheer number of casualties has made it impossible for hospitals and morgues to cope with the influx of bodies. Over 7,700 Palestinians have been killed since the conflict escalated on October 7th, according to the Gaza-based Health Ministry. Among the dead, nearly 300 remain unidentified. The overwhelmed system has led to delays in recovering bodies, leaving them swollen and disfigured beyond recognition.
The overcrowded cemeteries have forced families to dig up long-buried bodies and deepen existing graves to accommodate the newly deceased. Bilal Al-Hour, a professor at Gaza’s Al Aqsa University, lost 25 family members in an airstrike that destroyed their home. His brother had to exhume old plots in the local cemetery to make room for the newly deceased.
Morgues are overflowing, leading hospitals to bury bodies before their relatives can claim them. Gravediggers have resorted to laying unidentified bodies side by side in mass graves. The fear of being buried anonymously has prompted families to wear identification bracelets and write names on their children’s bodies with markers.
The Awqaf ministry, responsible for religious matters, has authorized the digging of mass graves due to the large number of casualties and limited space. Each governorate in Gaza now has at least two mass graves, some holding over 100 people. The urgency of the situation has forced hasty burials, depriving families of the opportunity to properly mourn their loved ones.
In addition to the loss of funeral rites, Palestinians in Gaza are now facing a new challenge – the loss of cellular and internet service. Communication with the outside world has become nearly impossible, making it difficult to call ambulances or check on the safety of loved ones in different buildings.
The ongoing conflict has left the people of Gaza in a state of fear and panic. With Israel expanding its ground incursion and intensifying bombardment, an estimated 1,700 people remain trapped beneath the rubble. Civil defense workers are impeded by Israeli airstrikes, making it dangerous for them to carry out rescue missions.
The war in Gaza has not only robbed Palestinians of their loved ones but also their ability to properly mourn and find closure. The overwhelming number of casualties has made it impossible to carry out traditional funeral rites, leaving families to bury their dead in mass graves or hastily dig shallow trenches. The loss of cellular and internet service further isolates the people of Gaza, making it difficult for them to seek help or find out if their loved ones are still alive.
As the conflict continues to escalate, the international community must recognize the immense human suffering taking place in Gaza. Efforts should be made to provide humanitarian aid and support to those affected by the war. The people of Gaza deserve the opportunity to grieve and mourn their loved ones with dignity and respect.