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Mass Graves in Khan Yunis Reveal Unspeakable Horror of US-Backed Gaza Invasion

Emboldened by unconditional military and diplomatic support from the US, Israel continues to act with impunity in Gaza.

Civil Defence Authority teams work to recover bodies of Palestinians from under the rubble in Khan Yunis, Gaza, on April 21, 2024. The Palestinian Civil Defense Administration in the Gaza Strip said late Saturday that the bodies of 50 Palestinians killed by the Israeli army were recovered from a mass grave in the southern Khan Younis province.

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Palestinians in Khan Yunis have continued to unearth dead bodies in what is believed to be the largest mass grave in Gaza’s history, first discovered at Nasser Hospital last Saturday. The discovery comes two weeks after the Israeli military withdrew its troops from the southern city on April 7 after a three-month siege, leaving utter destruction in their wake.

The massacre site is teeming with rescuers in hazmat suits digging corpses out of the ground with primitive hand tools and digging trucks, while horrified survivors and family members stand there in fraught anticipation, waiting for a sign of their loved ones who have been missing for two or more months. A video taken by Motasem Mortaja, a Palestinian journalist in Khan Yunis, shows a grieving mother kneeling on the hospital grounds and embracing the body of her son, weeping. She is one of the fortunate ones, as most bodies remain unidentified. Of the nearly 400 bodies recovered so far, only 65 have been identified, the head of the Khan Yunis Civil Defense told Al Jazeera.

Hundreds of mothers have gathered daily at the hospital, looking for their children, moving from body to body. One woman told Al Jazeera, “I came here for the fifth day looking for the body of my son Jamal. But unfortunately, I did not find my son’s body.” Families struggle to identify loved ones from their clothes. A mother breaks into tears when she recognizes her son from his jacket. Karima al-Ras identified her youngest son, Ahmad, from his wounds; “a gunshot to the leg and an opening in his stomach.” She burst into bitter tears, screaming: “They took him from me. They killed him. Israel, America and Britain are to blame.”

A young boy, Moayed, identified the remains of his mother among the bodies, before resuming the search for his father, sister and cousin. “I feel sad, lonely, alone in the world,” he told a reporter for Sky News. Around 400 bodies have been uncovered thus far. Most of the victims are children and women. Hundreds of others remain missing. The more people dig, the more corpses they find. A spokesman of the Khan Yunis Civil Defense estimates that searchers expect to recover another 400 bodies, according to CNN. Palestinian civil defense organizations estimate that at least 2,000 civilians remain missing or under rubble in Khan Yunis.

Disturbing reports continue to emerge about the mass graves, but the testimonies provided so far paint a dystopian picture. Footage and eyewitnesses relate bone-chilling scenes at the hospital complex. Bodies were found buried deep in the ground and covered with waste. Many were found naked, missing parts, skinned, decapitated, mutilated and disfigured beyond recognition. “We found corpses without heads, bodies without skins, and some had their organs stolen,” a local official in Gaza said in a statement shared by Quds News Network. Other bodies were reportedly found in plastic bags with Hebrew inscriptions on them. Many of the victims had their hands and feet tied behind their backs, indicating they were summarily executed before being buried. These include children, who were evidently murdered while in captivity. According to the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: “Among the deceased were allegedly older people, women and wounded, while others were found tied with their hands … tied and stripped of their clothes.” Doctors and nurses were among those brutally tortured and executed.

In video circulating on social media, body remains lie strewn and scattered across the sandy earth. Some corpses were rendered dust and ashes, possibly due to the use of unusual weapons by the Israeli army. The horrifying scale of death and mutilations shows that corpses were crushed and buried with military bulldozers –– a sadistic tactic unique to the IDF. Verified satellite images and footage show that Israeli forces were operating bulldozers during their occupation of the hospital, as extensive bulldozer tracks and marks were left among the graves. In some cases it’s not immediately clear whether the victims were buried alive or executed in field executions, as most of the bodies have been decomposed. (The Gaza Civil Defense believes that at least 20 people may have been buried alive.) Most of the victims remain nameless. One victim was marked: “Unknown, black jacket.”

Much of Khan Yunis is now in ruins, as if reeling from an earthquake, as seen in reporting by Al Jazeera. The southern city is described as the “most destroyed area” in the Gaza Strip. According to local officials, more than 80 percent of the city’s buildings are estimated to be destroyed, while the rest are largely uninhabitable. Before Israeli forces bombed and occupied it, Khan Yunis was declared a “safe zone” for displaced Palestinians. Israeli bombardments and military incursions have now turned it into a tent city, choked with refugees and teeming with displaced families. Satellite images from the destroyed city show a growing tent encampment, which is intended in part to provide shelter for people fleeing Rafah in the event of an Israeli ground invasion there. A United Nations Development Programme official recently told Al Jazeera that it would take 200 years to rebuild what Israel has destroyed in Gaza. The Nasser Hospital massacre is but the latest chapter in Israel’s deliberate campaign to destroy Gaza’s health care capacity. The Nasser Medical Complex was the second-largest medical facility in Gaza. It was one of the final active hospitals in Khan Yunis, and one of the last functioning hospitals in all of Gaza. It was described by the top WHO official as the “backbone of the health system in southern Gaza.” Now, it no longer exists.

For weeks, the hospital, where 10,000 wounded and displaced civilians were taking shelter, was under intense Israeli bombardment and military raids. Medics working for Doctors Without Borders relate that Israeli forces besieged and attacked Nasser Hospital in late January, before withdrawing a month later, leaving the facility in ruins. Health officials in Gaza confirmed that the bodies uncovered at the hospital were killed during the siege.

Human rights advocates have been warning of the catastrophic situation at Nasser for weeks. Medical staff and international observers who visited Nasser Hospital described it as a “graveyard.” Jonathan Whittall, an official with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) who took part in the evacuation missions at Nasser in February, warned: “The conditions are appalling. There are dead bodies in the corridors. This has become a place of death, not a place of healing.”

The Nasser Hospital massacre comes two weeks after the horrific massacre at Al-Shifa Hospital, once Gaza’s largest medical facility, where a mass grave of over 400 Palestinians was discovered following Israel’s two-week siege of the hospital compound.

Expressing their “horror” at the destruction of Gaza’s two largest hospitals, UN officials have called for international investigations into the massacres and the mass graves uncovered there, describing the atrocities as war crimes and grave violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. According to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk, “The intentional killing of civilians, detainees and others who are hors de combat is a war crime.”

On Wednesday, Amnesty International became the latest international organization to accuse Israel of war crimes at Nasser and Al-Shifa hospitals and call for international investigation.

The discovery of the mass graves at Nasser Hospital coincided with chilling reports that Israel, armed with U.S.-made bombs, shelled Gaza City’s largest fertility clinic, the Al Basma IVF center, destroying 4,000 embryos, along with 1,000 more specimens of sperm and unfertilized eggs, and depriving thousands of couples in Gaza of their last hope of having children.

The ongoing genocide in Gaza shows no signs of abating. Over the last weekend, Israel bombed a two-story house in Rafah, killing an entire family of 22 members, including 18 children. The house itself no longer exists. In its place is a huge crater gaping down into the earth. On April 19, Israel bombed Tal al-Sultan refugee camp in Gaza, killing nine Palestinians, including six children and two women. A day after, it bombed the al-Shabora camp in Rafah, killing four, including a young girl and a pregnant woman. The next day a newborn became the sole survivor of her family after she was saved by a miracle; images from the scene show doctors rescuing the premature child from the womb of her dying mother. “She was born an orphan,” said Mohammad Salama, the doctor who delivered the child. (The child died five days later.)

The Gaza genocide has been unfolding for “200 days of horror,” to cite a recent UN report. So far, Israel has killed over 34,000 Palestinians, including nearly 15,000 children. (The real toll is likely higher as thousands of bodies remain missing or buried beneath the rubble, with UN sources estimating 12,000 presumed dead.) At least 28 children have died from starvation, as Israel continues to deprive the besieged Strip of food, water and medicine. A new UN report accuses Israel of mass starvation and dehydration in Gaza, which is taking its toll on children. The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem also recently released a report accusing Israel of committing war crime of starvation, especially against children.

Meanwhile, Israel has displaced nearly 2 million Palestinians, most of whom are sheltering in refugee tents in the dusty desert town of Rafah. With U.S. blessing, Israel is gearing up to invade Rafah, a former “safe zone” where some 1.2 million displaced Palestinians have been forcibly squashed in what UNICEF spokesperson James Elder describes as “a city of children.” UN officials have warned that a full-scale Israeli incursion on Rafah would lead to “further atrocity crimes.” Melanie Ward, the head of Medical Aid for Palestinians, who has recently returned from a visit to Gaza, said that an Israeli invasion would inevitably culminate in “human slaughter.”

The mass graves at Nasser Hospital are a crime against humanity, carried out with Western complicity and bankrolled by U.S. taxpayers. The horrific discovery coincides with the Biden administration’s plan to send Israel the largest military aid package in U.S. history, after Congress approved, with bipartisan blessing, billions of dollars in additional bombs for Israel. The new package comes despite chilling reports showing U.S.-made quadcopter drones roaming over the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza while imitating the sound of crying babies, ready to shoot and kill people who come out to help. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to halt funding for the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, in a flagrant act of collective punishment, despite reports that Israel has failed to show evidence that UNRWA staff are members of Hamas.

Emboldened by U.S. unconditional military and diplomatic support, Israel continues to act with impunity in Gaza. Unsatisfied with fueling the genocide in Gaza, the U.S. is cracking down on antiwar protesters at home, where police forces are mass arresting hundreds of college students and faculty members protesting genocide on U.S. campuses, including at Columbia, NYU and Yale. In a statement, the White House has condemned the student protests, while U.S. politicians and mainstream media outlets joined forces in vilifying the student movement with false accusations of antisemitism, ushering in a new era of anti-Palestinian McCarthyism in the country. For the young students watching the horrific images from Palestine unfold in broad daylight, the Gaza genocide has exposed the rot of the U.S. ruling class, the moral corruption of its liberal institutions and the hollowness of the very values it professes to uphold. It’s appalling, from the young generation’s perspective, that the U.S. is willing to undermine its own democratic institutions and constitutional protections to defend Israel’s war crimes.

The mass graves in Gaza will be a permanent stain on humanity. Without an immediate and permanent ceasefire, Israel will continue carrying out unspeakable horrors.

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