Israel – Gaza: “My children cling to me while the dogs dig up the corpses”: terrifying scenes of Palestinians in Rafah

Israel – Gaza: “My children cling to me while the dogs dig up the corpses”: terrifying scenes of Palestinians in Rafah
Israel – Gaza: “My children cling to me while the dogs dig up the corpses”: terrifying scenes of Palestinians in Rafah
Image caption, A family flees Israeli attacks in Rafah.
Article information
  • Author, Fergal Keane*
  • Role, BBC News Special Correspondent, Jerusalem
  • 8 minutes ago

The seven children of Rehab Abu Daqqa listen to the dogs growling from the other side of their flimsy plastic tent.

The children huddle around their mother. It is the last haven of peace in their lives. They experienced things, these children and their mother, that are difficult to explain to anyone who has not seen them. Is there a word to express what a child feels when he knows that a few meters away, animals are pulling a corpse from a grave?

The vocabulary of childhood is lacking in the face of the horrors of this emergency cemetery in Rafah.

“Fear” is the word used by Rehab Abu Daqqa.

WARNING: This report contains descriptions that some readers may find disturbing.

The word is right. But that’s not all. Children have seen dogs eating corpses. A human leg lying next to a fence. So, yes, they are afraid. But they also felt disgust and incomprehension.

These children, who once had a home, went to school, lived according to the established rhythms of their family and their community, are now refugees in a place that reeks of death.

“This morning, the dogs took a body out of one of the graves and ate it,” says Rehab Abu Daqqa. “From dusk until dawn, the dogs don’t let us sleep… our children always cling to me because they are afraid.”

The dogs arrive in packs of dozens of animals. Pets whose owners have died or been displaced, mixed with Rafah’s population of stray dogs, all gone feral and looking for what they can eat.

The cemetery has many shallow graves where people lay their dead until they can be returned to their place of origin. In some graves, relatives placed bricks to try to keep dogs away from the corpses.

Rehab Abu Daqqa is emaciated and exhausted. She covers her mouth and nose with a cloth to protect herself from the stench of the graves and thanks the young men who came earlier to rebury a body that the dogs had removed that morning.

Image caption, Rehab Abu Daqqa and her seven children had to move three times and experienced scenes that were difficult to imagine.

“I cannot accept that my children live next to a cemetery. My son is in second grade and today, instead of playing, he drew a grave and in the middle he drew a corpse. Are these the children of Palestine? What can I tell you? Horrible, and the word horrible doesn’t even explain it.

The cemetery is one of the places in Gaza that has become a refuge for those whose homes were destroyed by the Israeli army, which for months has been waging a military campaign in Gaza in response to the October 7 Hamas attacks on the Israeli territory, which left 1,200 dead.

More than 1.4 million people are overcrowded in Rafah, five times the pre-war population. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, this equates to 22,000 people per square kilometer. Diseases are already spreading, with outbreaks of diarrhea, hepatitis A and meningitis, in addition to persistent famine.

It is in Rafah that refugees from Gaza come up against the last wall, the border with Egypt which is closed to the vast majority of displaced people and which has been retaken by the Israeli army.

They were pushed there by the advance of Israeli forces. Rehab Abu Daqqa has already fled three times and will have to bring his family out again after the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) offensive against Rafah.

Image caption, WHO’s Rik Peeperkorn warns that the Rafah offensive could worsen the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military operation in Rafah would be carried out “with or without” a ceasefire to eliminate the four Hamas battalions he said were hiding in the city.

Hamas insists there can be no agreement without a commitment to end the war permanently.

Far-right members of Israel’s governing coalition have warned Mr Netanyahu against compromising. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, standard-bearer of the settler movement, called for the “absolute destruction” of Rafah, saying the “job cannot be left half done.”

Rik Peeperkorn, regional director of the World Health Organization (WHO), who recently returned from Rafah, asks: “Where are they going [les réfugiés] settle ? “.

“There is already a health crisis. There is a water and sanitation crisis, a food crisis. It is a humanitarian catastrophe that will now worsen… We can expect mortality and disease to increase with the military incursion. A lot more people are going to die… there will be more deaths and a lot more disease.

Peeperkorn worked for seven years in Afghanistan with the United Nations and is not a man easily intimidated. But today he looks tired. The fatigue of a man who wakes up every morning with the certainty of a crisis whose consequences seem to get worse all the time.

The WHO is already preparing additional field hospitals in the event of further evacuations. But what about the elderly and seriously ill, the 700 kidney dialysis patients currently being treated in a center that once accommodated 50?

“If you look at the health sector, it’s already very damaged, and the incursion will mean that we lose three more hospitals… that we won’t be able to access, that could be damaged, that could be partially destroyed. We prepare with an emergency plan which is like a band-aid.

Image caption, Children are among the highest number of victims in Gaza.

The BBC provided graphic evidence of conditions inside hospitals, which it filmed day after day during the war.

At Rafah European Hospital, families camp in whatever space they can find, inside and out. They prepare food in the rooms. Their children wander the dark corridors, among the wounded carried on stretchers.

In the emergency room, Yassin al Ghalban, 11, cries in his bed. He lost his legs, which were amputated below the knee following an airstrike. One relative says he’s “surviving on painkillers.”

Image caption, Yassin al Ghalban, 11, lost his legs during an Israeli bombing.

In the cemetery, Rehab Abu Daqqa watches her children play a few meters from the graves. The dogs are gone, but the children stay close to their mother. Soon she will move again because she can’t stand her children staying in this place.

There is no question of hope here. In Gaza, hope disappears at different speeds, depending on the circumstances. It can disappear in a second with the murder of a loved one. It can also gradually disappear, hour by hour, as we are pushed from one poverty camp to another, and words are lost in the face of the children’s questions that pile up.

Additional information provided by Alice Doyard and Haneen Abdeen.

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