For four days, Kareem Sabawi’s body lay wrapped in a blanket in a cold, empty apartment as his family sheltered nearby. He was killed during intense Israeli bombardment near his family home, his father and mother said, and in the days that followed, it was too dangerous to step outside and lay their 10-year-old child to rest.
His family called the Palestine Red Crescent for help. But it was the early days of Israel’s ground invasion in northern Gaza, and forces were blocking streets with tanks and gunfire, preventing rescue workers from reaching those killed by Israeli airstrikes. Each day, the father, Hazem Sabawi, suffered a double torment — mourning his son and unable to afford him the final dignity of a proper burial.
“After the fourth day, I said that’s it. Either I will be buried with him, or I won’t bury him at all,” he said, recounting how he laid his son under a guava tree behind a neighbor’s apartment building.
“Every human has the right to be buried,” Mr. Sabawi said.
It has been 13 weeks since Israel’s war in Gaza began after the attack on Israel by Hamas, which killed about 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials. Since then, the living in Gaza have been forced to inter their dead hurriedly and without ceremony or last rites, lest they risk the same fate as their loved ones.
More than 22,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel since Oct. 7, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Civilians are being killed at a pace with few precedents in this century. The conflict has turned Gaza into a “graveyard for thousands of children,” the United Nations said.
“The situation has gotten to the point where we say: The lucky are those who have someone to bury them when they die,” said Dr. Mohammad Abu Moussa, a radiologist at Al-Nasr Hospital in southern Gaza.
Traditionally, Palestinians honor their dead with public funeral processions and mourning tents erected on streets for three days to receive those who want to offer condolences. But the war has made those traditions impossible to uphold.
Instead, the dead have been buried in mass graves, hospital courtyards and backyard gardens, often without headstones, their names scrawled on white burial shrouds or body bags. Funeral prayers are said quickly — if at all — in hospital hallways or outside morgues.
Ameera Harouda contributed reporting.