Late on a Friday night, Amani al-Hor, 28, returned home only to witness a missile striking her parents’ house next door. That evening, she had sought solace from the relentless aerial bombings by playing cards with her cousin. After chatting with her siblings, she took her four children back to their house. Her parents’ home in the Nuseirat refugee camp hosted eight families spanning three generations, united in displacement.
At around 8 PM, an Israeli airstrike decimated the house, claiming the lives of at least 40 family members, including Amani’s parents, most of her siblings, and their children. Amani’s house also sustained damage.
Amid the chaos, she gathered her children in the dark and escaped. In shock, she began to reckon the extent of her family’s loss.
“I wish I could see my father,” Amani lamented. “I only saw his back that night, telling something to my siblings as I left. My mother’s body is torn apart. At the hospital, I only saw her arms, and her intestines had spilled out of her stomach.”
Amani, close to her sisters, spoke to them daily. “I wish I was killed with them,” she whispered.
With no room left in the cemeteries, the overwhelming number of casualties has forced expedited funeral rites and mass burials. The customary rituals and prayers are forsaken, replaced by mass graves where family members are laid to rest without the customary farewell.
Mukhtar al-Hor, a relative of Amani, explained, “Before the war, funerals had rituals that were followed. Dozens or hundreds of people would pray over the deceased before carrying them to the cemetery to be buried. Now, there are barely a handful of people available to pray over their loved ones.”
Deir el-Balah’s Mayor, Diab al-Jaru, shared that more than 400 people have been killed in the town alone. The cemetery, already full, has no space left, compelling the town to resort to mass graves, often separated by gender.
Palestinians honor those killed in Israeli attacks as “martyrs,” with funeral processions holding great significance. However, the ongoing assault has truncated these processions and burial rituals.
In normal circumstances, the deceased’s body is washed, taken to the family home for final farewells, prayed over at the mosque, and then carried to the cemetery. Now, the funeral prayer is performed at the hospital, attended by a few, before the body is buried in a mass grave without headstones.
Ammar, responsible for washing bodies, shared the challenges of these exceptional times, emphasizing that due to shortages, bodies are shrouded immediately in one piece.
“Before the war, the bodies of adults would be wrapped in three different shrouds,” he said. “We would wash them with water and soap twice, and on the third time, we would use camphor. But under these current circumstances, we don’t have the time or means to do that.”
With the hospital overwhelmed, some bodies are placed outside. Ammar, recounting the horror, mentioned, “I have received bodies burned beyond recognition, bodies with torn limbs, skulls emptied and broken, bodies reeking of chemical smells.”
He concluded, “The most violent weapons, made by the US, are being used against us. This aggression has crossed all red lines and violated every international human rights law. The world must stop this barbaric war against us.”