An agonizing wait to identify Gaza’s dead

Civil defense workers carry a body that was found in a mass grave at Nasser Medical Complex. 

Omar Ashtawy APA images

Muhammad al-Qahwaji has not been able to arrange a funeral for his father Talib.

Israeli forces killed Talib during an offensive against Nasser Medical Complex and its surrounding area in Khan Younis, southern Gaza.

Muhammad saw his father lying on the ground after being shot. But the family could not come to his aid as the situation was too dangerous.

A friend of the family confirmed seeing Talib bleeding to death. Talib recited the shahada – declaration of faith – during his final moments, the friend stated.

Since a mass grave was discovered at Nasser Medical Complex, Muhammad has been sitting in the hospital’s courtyard to see if he can find his father’s body.

“The things I see are terrifying,” he said. “There are bodies that have decomposed and there are bodies that have had their heads cut off.”

Muhammad described his father – who was aged 54 – as a “pillar of strength.”

The family have endured immense hardship during the current war.

After being forced to leave their home in Khan Younis, they took shelter in a number of places before going to Nasser Medical Complex. They stayed in a tent near the hospital, in what Muhammad called the “mistaken belief” that it would be safer than elsewhere.

Israel killed Muhammad’s elder brother, while he was on his way to buy a bag of flour.

As they were laying the young man to rest, Talib whispered that he would soon join his son. Those words proved prescient.


“Life amid the Israeli aggression is unbearable,” Muhammad said.

“Finding basic necessities has become a daily struggle,” he added. “But never did I expect the loss of both my brother and father in this war.”

“All I hope for is to find my father’s body and be able to bury it. I am not only in pain because I lost my father. I am in pain because I was not able to help him and now I am unable to even bury him.”

Aged 32, Asad Abu Mustafa had been an English language teacher at a school run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA). He and his family had remained in their Khan Younis home as long as they could.

When Israel’s violence against their neighborhood intensified, they sought refuge at Nasser Medical Complex.

Asad was shot dead by Israeli troops besieging the hospital. Israeli forces took his 65-year-old father into detention.

His father was interrogated. Then the man was executed in front of his daughter Maram and her mother.

“By a miracle, a compassionate person was able to lay my father to rest in the hospital’s garden and to mark his grave with his name,” Maram said.

After Israeli troops withdrew from Khan Younis, Maram was finally able to locate her father’s grave. Her father’s remains were then transferred to a cemetery in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city.

But it took a number of agonizing days before Asad’s body was found. The body was identified by his friend Karim Ahmad.

Maram gave Karim a crucial detail: Asad was wearing mismatched socks when he was killed. One was black, the other brown.

“I recognized Asad from his socks,” Karim said.

“It was very tragic. His face had decomposed.”

Hundreds of bodies have been unearthed from the mass grave at Nasser Medical Complex.

The site bears testament to how Israel has been committing massacres at hospitals and other civilian facilities. Holding Israel accountable for such ghastly crimes is imperative.

Aseel Mousa is a journalist from Gaza.