Unable to travel to northern Gaza, Christians bury their dead in Muslim cemeteries

Worker at Muslim cemetery in Rafah area says he’s doing what’s necessary to ‘protect God’s creations on this earth’ amid ongoing war, mass displacement

Illustrative - A Palestinian woman prays by a relative's tomb as others bury their dead following overnight Israeli airstrikes, at a cemetery in east Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, February 26, 2024. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Illustrative - A Palestinian woman prays by a relative's tomb as others bury their dead following overnight Israeli airstrikes, at a cemetery in east Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, February 26, 2024. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Too frightened to travel on dangerous roads that lead to their graveyards in Gaza, Palestinian Christians are lowering their loved ones into the ground in Muslim cemeteries amid the chaos of war between Israel and Hamas.

“I’ve been working at this cemetery for almost 10 years and this is the first time in my life,” said Ihsan al-Natour, a worker at the Tal al-Sultan cemetery, where a man picked up a shrouded body and placed it inside a grave as a small child watched.

“Never have I seen a Christian being buried in a Muslim grave, but because of this war, we had no choice but to bury him here.”

Since the war broke out six months ago, Hamas-run health authorities in Gaza say more than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed, though their figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires.

The IDF says it has killed over 13,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Much of the coastal enclave has been turned into a wasteland, with buildings reduced to rubble and dust. Badly damaged hospitals cannot cope with the casualties, while hunger and possible famine add to the misery.

Israel says Hamas is deeply embedded among non-combatants in Gaza and has deliberately built its terror infrastructure in civilian areas across the enclave, leading to widespread destruction.

Illustrative – Relatives mourn during the funeral of loved ones in ongoing fighting in Gaza, at a cemetery in Rafah, February 21, 2024. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Travel along roads that could get bombed or shelled only increases the anguish for people trying to bury their dead. Israel has yet to allow residents of northern Gaza, where the Christian cemetery is located, to return home.

Al-Natour said Tal al-Sultan cemetery received the body of a Christian man named Hani Suheil Abu Dawood because it was too dangerous for his family to travel amid the siege. They were unable to say goodbye to him properly.

“So we’ve buried him here at the Tal al-Sultan cemetery. We don’t discriminate between Muslims or Christians here. He’s buried amongst Muslims and there are no signs that indicate he is Christian,” he said.

Cooperation between Christians and Muslims is not unusual in Gaza.

“I have to take care of him because he is Christian. We have to protect God’s creations on this earth,” said al-Natour.

“He is a human being, we respect human beings and appreciate humanity and we love every person on earth. It is not in our nature as Muslims to hate humanity.”

The war in Gaza erupted with Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages.

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