Israel-Palestine war: Palestinians appalled by Israeli razing of Gaza cemeteries
Israeli military bulldozers wrecked several burial grounds in northern areas of the strip during its ongoing ground incursion.
After tanks withdrew earlier this week from some of the cemeteries and surrounding areas, returning residents are starting to assess the scale of destruction left behind.
"[They] left nothing in its place," Abed Sabah, a Gaza-based journalist, told Middle East Eye.
Reporting from the now-razed Al-Faluja cemetery in Jabalia, Sabah said military bulldozers had dug into the graves, causing some tombs to get mixed together.
"These tombs are places that have history and hold the bodies of loved ones," the reporter said.
"It is difficult to have them go through this digging."
Some residents desperately tried to find their deceased relatives through the rubble in hopes of reassembling their graves.
"I came to visit the graves of my brother and uncle and I couldn’t find them," one resident told Al Jazeera.
"I dug… and looked for their names but could not find them," he added.
'Dirt and berms'
According to the New York Times, Israeli forces damaged or destroyed at least six cemeteries in the northern Gaza Strip over the last few weeks.
In one example, the report found that satellite imagery showed armoured vehicles operating atop what were intact graves in Gaza City's Shejaiya neighbourhood.
Footage taken by local journalists in other cemeteries showed apparent bulldozer tracks and displaced headstones.
The damaged cemeteries are located in the towns of Beit Lahia, Beit Hanoun and Gaza City.
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said it documented damage to the Al-Faluja cemetery, Ali bin Marwan, Sheikh Radwan, Al-Shuhada and Sheikh Shaaban cemeteries, in addition to St. Porphyrius Church cemetery in Gaza City and Al-Shuhada cemetery in the northern town of Beit Lahia.
Jake Godin, an investigative journalist at Scripps News who analysed the satellite imagery, told MEE the before-and-after photos show clearing bulldozers or clearing activity in some of the cemeteries.
"You can see long streaks of dirt or the pushed dirt," said Godin.
"When you look at the satellite view, you see that there’s no more headstones, it’s just dirt and berms and pushed dirt and then, spots for [Israeli army] vehicles to sit."
The Bin Marwan cemetery in Shejaiya, which was partially cleared by the Israeli army as seen in satellite imagery, was spotted in a video posted by the army on 10 December.
The soldiers were filmed shooting across the cemetery and even fired a grenade launcher.
The Israeli military did not comment on the reason behind targeting cemeteries and operating in them.
Intentional attacks on cemeteries and other places of religious significance could be considered war crimes.
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor accused Israeli forces of "destroying dozens of graves in utter disregard for the sanctity of the dead".
In addition to razing the cemetery, the rights group said the Israeli army vandalised some graves and "stole dead bodies believed to belong to Palestinian activists".
"Israel systematically violates the sanctity of the dead and of cemeteries in flagrant violation of the principles of international humanitarian law and the rules of war in relation to the protection of cemeteries during armed conflicts," the group said in a statement.
The razing of cemeteries has also blocked Palestinians' access to gravesites, forcing many to bury relatives in unusual spots across the strip.
Footage by local media showed residents using markets, roadsides and hospital courtyards as burial sites.
Burial difficulties are particularly challenging in northern Gaza due to the mounting death toll from Israel's ongoing bombing campaign.
The ceaseless bombardment has killed at least 18,800 Palestinians in 70 days, most of whom are children and women.
In Israel, over 1,200 people have been killed in the same period.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.