Gaza entered its sixth day of a near-total telecommunications blackout on Wednesday, leaving Palestinians unable to reach loved ones and isolated from the rest of the world as Israeli forces rain bombs on the region.
Gaza telecommunications company Paltel and internet access group NetBlocks have said that the current communications blockage, the ninth since the current siege began, is the longest yet. Repair personnel have been unable to reach damaged sites – most of the communications infrastructure was damaged by Israeli bombing – to restore access.
In one instance, Paltel said, the company had arranged for workers to conduct some repairs with Israeli forces last week, but the workers were killed on the way. In fact, most repairs have to be done by employees amid shooting and harassment from Israeli tanks, Paltel representative Mamoon Fares told The Washington Post. The current blackout has lasted this long, Fares said, because Israel has also been blocking workers from being able to conduct repairs.
This is leaving people unable to call for help or let loved ones know that they’re still alive, while humanitarian aid workers are unable to communicate with each other. According to The New York Times, aid workers say that it is almost impossible to communicate and coordinate responses to crises, leaving them unable to respond quickly to reports of injured people.
Some people have managed to communicate during the blackouts using satellite phones and eSIM cards, though these can be expensive and complicated to set up and have largely been provided through donation drives.
The little information that does trickle out through the blackout is often horrifying.
Recently posted videos, shared by Palestinian journalist Mohammed El-Kurd and Al Jazeera, show footage of a cemetery in Khan Yunis in Southern Gaza with graves damaged and bodies seemingly removed from them. Al Jazeera reports that witnesses saw Israeli soldiers taking the bodies to an unknown location.
Desecrating the corpses of people killed in military operations is a war crime. Moreover, the violation of buried corpses is an additional horror that Israeli forces are forcing onto Palestinians, who already are unable to properly mourn their dead as hundreds are added to the death toll each day.
So far, according to Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, Israeli forces have bulldozed and desecrated hundreds of graves across at least 12 cemeteries around Gaza so far, and stolen dozens of bodies. Satellite footage shows cemeteries entirely razed. In a cemetery in Al-Tuffah east of Gaza City, the Israeli military dug up over 1,000 graves, removing over 150 bodies that had just been buried, according to Euro-Med Monitor.
The Al-Batsh Cemetery was established in October in order to bury unidentified people who were left in the Al-Shifa hospital complex. Israeli forces leveled Al-Batsh early this month and a majority of the bodies were “removed, dismembered, and looted, along with some of the tombstones that identified the people buried there,” Euro-Med Monitor says.
One former Gaza City resident, Nour Nasser, who was forced to move to the southern region of Gaza told the group that her brother was buried in Al-Batsh — and now his remains are gone. “The Israeli army not only killed my brother, but also went so far as to deny my family any opportunity to visit his grave,” Nasser said.
The grave desecrations have sparked fears that Israel is once again harvesting the organs of Palestinians they killed. Israeli officials have admitted to organ harvesting before, in 2009, but say that they are not doing it now. However, Gaza medical professionals and Euro-Med Monitor officials say that they have found evidence that Israel is harvesting organs amid the current siege with Israeli forces regularly digging up corpses and bodies being returned to families in a mutilated state.
Some reports have found that Israel regularly uses the corpses of Palestinians as bargaining chips. Many Palestinian families have reported waiting months or years for their family members’ bodies to be returned to them as Israel maintains a policy of withholding bodies for political leverage.
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