Palestinian Territory - Immediate international action must be taken to investigate the hundreds of mass and random graves in the Gaza Strip containing the bodies of thousands of Palestinian victims since the start of Israel’s genocide, ongoing since 7 October 2023.

 

Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor field teams have closely observed the recovery of hundreds of dead bodies from these mass graves, some of which were found in the courtyards of different Gaza Strip hospitals.

 

The significant number of graves and bodies is concerning and calls for rapid international action, which should include the immediate creation of an independent international investigation committee to look into the circumstances surrounding the creation of these graves and the deaths of the victims buried in them. This is especially important given that a large number of the victims were directly subjected to premeditated murder and arbitrary and extrajudicial executions while handcuffed.

 

A technical committee of experts is needed to investigate the burial circumstances and determine the cause of death of the victims that have been recovered. Additionally, a system for future identification ofdeceased victims’ identities must be developed.

 

The civil defence teams’ discovery of hundreds of bodies from mass graves in the courtyards of Al-ShifaMedical Complex and the Nasser Medical Complexrepresents a dark chapter in the history of Israeli military violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. 

 

The Euro-Med Monitor field teams previouslydocumented the recovery of dozens of bodies from the mass graves in Al-Shifa Medical Complex’s courtyards, belonging to handcuffed victims, otherindividuals who were wounded but not provided withmedical care, and those who were executed despite their health conditions.

 

The victims’ decomposing bodies were found in several places, with some having been run over by Israeli bulldozers which left their bodies torn into pieces.

 

The presence of urinary catheters or splints, whichwere found to be still attached to some of the dead patients’ bodies during the exhumation process, as well as medical files that were buried with them in Al-Shifa Medical Complex, confirm the execution of ill and injured people.

 

Due to the extended period of time in which the bodies were left in the mass graves—as Israeli forces had impeded their recovery for the past few months—most of the bodies were in a state of decomposition when recovered. Some of the corpses had also evidently been mauled by cats and dogs.

 

Dr Moatasem Saeed Salah, a member of the Ministry of Health’s emergency committee, told Euro-MedMonitor that after the withdrawal of Israeli forces, 30 bodies were found to have been buried in two makeshift cemeteries in Al-Shifa Medical Complexduring the Israeli siege of the medical facility. One of these cemeteries was in front of the reception and emergency department, and the second was in front of the industrial department.

 

Salah said that only 14 of the victims had been successfully identified, with the rest being patients or injured individuals who had been receiving treatment in the hospital.

 

The first mass grave at Al-Shifa Medical Complex was created on 15 October 2023, because it was impossible to move the deceased to Gaza City’s official cemetery, which is located in the eastern part of the city, due to Israeli bombardment. Afterwards, more of thesemakeshift graves were constructed, bringing thecurrent total to roughly 140 graves, some of which hold hundreds of bodies.

 

Among the mass graves that were reported in November and December of last year was the first random cemetery, located in the heart of Gaza City’s Al-Daraj neighbourhood. It was excavated on property belonging to the Al-Masry family on Al-Sahaba Street, spanning approximately 500 metres. It is estimated that at least 150 bodies are buried there.

 

A second random cemetery was similarly excavated in Al-Daraj neighbourhood on land near the Sha’biyyaintersection on Al-Istiklal Street (Al-Qaws). Its approximate size is 2,000 square metres, and it is thought to contain more than 200 buried bodies.

 

While recovering the bodies of the dead from under multi-storey buildings is extremely difficult, the majority of the recently recovered bodies have beenfound in simple one-storey buildings or on the streets.

 

Thousands of destroyed homes in multi-storey buildings that once held dozens of living people have become mass graves, because it is still impossible to retrieve their killed occupants, due to either a lack of technical means of removing rubble or the fact that these buildings are situated in areas where the Israeli military operations are still active.

 

The presence of mass graves is another unmistakable sign that grave crimes against Palestinians have been committed by Israel in the Gaza Strip. These crimes infringe upon Palestinians’ right to life; to not be subjected to enforced disappearances; to humane treatment; and to the right of the dead to be identified individually, treated with dignity when their remains are buried, and be buried in a way that respects their religious customs.

 

The international community must pressure Israel to identify the locations of all mass graves that the Israeli army has excavated in the Gaza Strip, plus take all necessary precautions to prevent Israeli forces from destroying or demolishing them or excavating additional mass graves; stealing Palestinian bodies from them; disfiguring these bodies; or treating victims inhumanely or in a degrading way after they have been killed.

 

Along with gathering all relevant evidence, and taking all necessary precautions to ensure that it is not lost—which could lead to the perpetrators of these crimes going unpunished—the international community is also required to open prompt, independent international investigations into the Israeli crimes connected to the existence of mass graves, including the unlawful killings of victims whose bodies were concealed within them.

 

The identification of the unidentified bodies buried in these graves should involve collaboration and participation from all capable international bodies.

 

Urgent international action is needed to set up special mechanisms and specialised teams to remove debris from homes and buildings that Israel’s army has bombed, rescue those trapped alive under the rubble, and retrieve the thousands of dead bodies stuck under it since the genocide began.

 

Decisive international pressure on Israel is necessary to facilitate the labour of the individuals and crews working to remove this rubble, such as civil defense crews. Pressure must also be put on Israel to release information on the fate of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners and detainees from the Gaza Strip who are being held by Israeli army forces, plus those who have been victims of murder, unlawful execution, and enforced disappearance in Israeli prisons and detention centres.

 

Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor estimates that over 13,000 Palestinians are either missing under debris, buried in indiscriminate mass graves, or forcibly disappeared in Israeli prisons and detention facilities, where some have even been killed.

 

The circumstances surrounding the deaths of these prisoners and detainees have not yet been made public by the Israeli army, nor have any independent investigators been able to confirm or determine the details of their deaths. These victims’ bodies have not been exhumed, their identities have not been established, and their remains have not been repatriated, nor have their relatives been informed.

 

Victims’ bodies must be recovered immediately after death, as the current state of these decaying corpses poses a threat to public safety in the Strip. The spread of epidemics has already begun and the effects havebeen felt for several months now; this spread will havea further detrimental impact on the environment and public health. Amid reprehensible international complicity, Israel’s crime of genocide has not spared even the dead.

 

Thousands of Palestinians are still missing, which is a further crime against their families, who endure terrible psychological abuse. This kind of suffering and pain is especially experienced by the families of those who were detained and taken prisoner by the Israeli army; they are left in a state of perpetual fear and anxiety, not knowing what will become of their loved ones, where they are being held, how they are being treated, or when they will be released.

 

The international community must act swiftly and forcefully to defend Palestinian civilians against the genocide that Israel has been committing against themin the Strip for the past six months now. It must also work to ensure that Israel complies with international law and the ruling of the International Court of Justice, and is held responsible for all its crimes, including the recent massacre conducted in Al-Shifa Medical Complex.

 

Euro-Med Monitor urges the International Committee of the Red Cross to bear its responsibilities and verify the detention conditions of Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons. The Red Cross must also take public stances and release statements each time Israel prevents it from carrying out its mandated duties, such as, most notably, paying visits to Palestinian prisoners and detainees to check on their condition.

 

Israel is required by international law to abide by certain rules, such as to protect and respect the bodies of dead people during armed conflicts, and take all reasonable steps to prevent parties to the conflict from depriving the dead of their dignity and from having their bodies mutilated.

 

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions; the Special Rapporteur on the issue of torture; and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances must promptly and thoroughly investigate all serious crimes committed by the Israeli army against Palestinian prisoners and detainees—including extrajudicial executions and killings, torture, inhuman treatment, and forced disappearances—and submit reports concerning these crimes to all relevant parties in preparation for the work of fact-finding committees and international courts in considering, looking into, and trying cases pertaining to this genocide.