DEL ALBALA, CENTRAL GAZA (AP) – The remains of buildings lie block after block. A nauseating smell. Every day, hundreds of people plow through tons of debris with shovels, iron bars or their bare hands.
Palestinians collect bodies from the ruins of a destroyed building at the Braei refugee camp in central Gaza on the 14th (AP)
◆Before it is buried in rubble forever…
What they are looking for are the bodies of children. parents. neighbors. And all those killed in Israeli missile strikes. The body lies somewhere in a land of endless destruction.
More than five weeks into Israel’s war against the Islamic group Hamas, some streets have turned into graveyards. Government officials in Gaza say they do not have the equipment, personnel or fuel to properly search for survivors, let alone the dead.
Many of Hamas’s strongholds, whose attacks on October 7 left around 1,200 people dead in Israel, are within the crowded Gaza Strip. Israel has targeted these locations for attacks.
However, many of the victims were everyday Palestinians, and many have not yet been found.
Omar al-Darawi and his neighbors spent weeks searching the ruins of several four-story houses in central Gaza. There were 45 people living in the house, 32 of whom were killed. A few days after the attack, the bodies of 27 people were found.
The five people still missing are relatives of al-Darawi.
Amani, a 37-year-old housewife, died along with her husband and four children. Alia, 28, was taking care of her elderly parents. Another Amani died along with her 14-year-old daughter. Her husband and five sons survive.
“The situation is getting worse day by day.” said a 23-year-old man who once majored in journalism at university. The smell has become almost unbearable.
“We can’t stop looking for them. We want to find them and bury them before they are buried forever in the rubble.” He said.
Buildings destroyed by Israeli military attacks in the Braei refugee camp in central Gaza = AP
◆The search focuses on survivors, and the only bulldozer is out of fuel.
The Israeli attack has killed more than 11,200 people, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Hamas-controlled Gaza health ministry. The United Nations Humanitarian Affairs Office estimates that around 2,700 people, including 1,500 children, are missing and buried in the ruins.
For families in predominantly Muslim Gaza, the number of missing people represents layers of pain. Islam requires that the dead be buried promptly, preferably within 24 hours. The body wrapped in cloth is turned towards the holy city of Mecca. Traditionally, the body is washed with soap and perfume by family members, and prayers of forgiveness are offered at the grave.
Searches are particularly difficult in northern Gaza, which includes Gaza City, where Israeli ground forces are battling Hamas militants. Hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing south, fearful of the fighting and encouraged by Israeli evacuation orders. However, Israeli airstrikes and shelling continue in the south, and there is no safe place in this small territory.
More than 20 personnel have been killed and more than 100 injured since the fighting began, said Mahmoud Bassal, a spokesman for the Palestinian Civil Defense Authority, Gaza’s main search and rescue force.
More than half of the vehicles owned by the rescue team either lack fuel or have been damaged by airstrikes.
In central Gaza, outside the northern combat zone, heavy equipment such as bulldozers and cranes is completely out of commission, according to the region’s civil defense chief.
“We don’t have the fuel to run the only bulldozer we have,” said Rami Ali al-Aidey, the director of the department.
At least five large bulldozers are needed just to search a series of collapsed high-rise buildings in the coastal town of Del Alvara.
That means the focus is not on the bodies or the people desperately searching for them.
“We are prioritizing areas where we think we will find survivors,” Bassal said.
Palestinians search for bodies in the ruins of a destroyed building at the Braei refugee camp in central Gaza on the 14th (AP)
◆“The people who found the body are happy.”
As a result, the search for bodies is often left to relatives or volunteers like former freelance journalist Bilal Abusama.
He said that among the victims of Del Albala, 10 bodies were left in the al-Salam mosque, more than two dozen bodies were missing in a destroyed house, and others were missing in another mosque attack. He listed the names of the 10 bodies found there.
“Are these bodies going to remain buried in rubble until the war ends? Then when will the war end?” Abu Sama, 30, described how her family was digging through the wreckage without tools. “The bodies will decompose. Many have already decomposed.”
On the 14th of this month, 28 days after her home was destroyed in an airstrike, Izerdin Almogari discovered her cousin’s body.
All but three of his 24 relatives living in the house in the Braei refugee camp were killed.
Eight (bodies) have not yet been found.
Civil Defense bulldozers arrived three days after the airstrike to clear the road, then left shortly after to move on to another collapsed building. The bulldozer came again on the 14th and he helped find Almogari’s cousin.
After finding his cousin, Almogari re-entered the wreckage in search of his father and other relatives.
“I’m stunned. What we went through is indescribable.”
In Gaza, many families are even denied access to healing funerals.
Al-Darawi, who is looking for his cousin, understands this and says:
“The people who found the body are happy.” = Honorific title omitted.
(Updated on November 17, Associated Press; Text by Wafaa Shurafa and Sammy Magdy; Translation by Nakahiro Iwata)