Israel-Hamas conflict: Dead find peace at makeshift morgue
Two weeks after the initial terror attacks by Hamas militants on southern Israel, families are still waiting to find out the fate of their loved ones
At the edge of the Shura military base in central Israel, about a dozen containers are lined up next to several tents. The atmosphere is busy but quiet — out of respect for the deceased.
At this makeshift morgue, doctors, forensic experts and volunteers in hazmat suits have been working around the clock to identify bodies, both of soldiers and civilians. The smell of death hangs in the air.
"The things we saw, we will never forget them," said Dr Danielle, a volunteer dentist who could not give her last name under military rules. She was speaking with a group of reporters who were given access to the area by the Israeli military. "We are working day and night in shifts trying to identify each and everyone."
Most of the victims are from the initial terror attacks on southern communities in Israel on 7 October, when Hamas militants breached the border.
Two weeks later, some 100 to 200 people remain unaccounted for, with bodies still being found, the Israeli military said on 19 October. Some areas near the Gaza border have not been accessible until now. At least 1,400 people have been killed in Israel since the war began, most in the initial attacks. Over 5,000 Palestinians have died in retaliatory airstrikes by the Israeli military on Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
"We are here doing what is a holy mission for us, identifying the last casualties and all of the civilians that got killed," said Dr. Danielle. "It is so important for us. We want to give them their final respect."
The identification process takes time, said the doctor. Many bodies have been disfigured and mutilated.
"The mission they gave us was to identify the casualties," she said. "No doctor, no dentist was prepared for what they saw. [...] We saw things that were shocking to us, women that were raped, brutally raped and then killed, people that were burned alive."
Many of the victims were killed without any ID on them. This made the identification process extremely difficult.
In a large tent lit up by strong neon lights, several teams are working on each body to understand what happened to the person.
They also try to match DNA with samples brought by families who are still searching for their relatives. Once a match has been made, bodies are released as quickly as possible to enable the families to bury them according to Jewish tradition.
"In a Jewish tradition, when a person is deceased, we read a prayer, the Kaddish, to uplift the soul to its final rest," said Colonel Haim Weisberg, head of the military's (IDF's) rabbinic department. "In this incident, we will see people who will not be able to read Kaddish at all because none of their family members have survived this. We saw families, grandparents, parents and grandchildren, all came here in bags."
Some families still don't know whether their loved ones were killed or abducted to Gaza by the militants. The Israel Defence Forces on Monday updated the number of hostages being held by Hamas to 222.Giving clarity to the waiting families is the best they can do in this situation, said Dr. Danielle, before adding: "As a nation, as us, we will never be the same again."
This visit was facilitated by the Israeli military