In the mortuary of Nasser Hospital, situated in southern Gaza, employees wrap the bodies of individuals who lost their lives in Israeli airstrikes with white fabric amidst the pervasive odor of death. They document essential details about the deceased, such as their name, identity card number, age, and gender.
Some of the corpses are severely disfigured. Only those identified or claimed by family members are permitted for burial and are included in the death toll reported by the Gaza health ministry. The remaining bodies are stored in the morgue’s refrigeration unit, often for extended periods.
As of Friday, the death toll has reached 20,057, prompting renewed international appeals for a ceasefire in Gaza. The ministry acknowledges that thousands more deceased individuals remain buried under debris, with approximately 70% of the casualties being women and children.
The ministry’s statistics have drawn global attention to the high number of civilian casualties resulting from the Israeli military offensive. However, the closure of most hospitals in Gaza, the loss of numerous healthcare professionals, and communication challenges due to fuel and electricity shortages make compiling accurate casualty figures increasingly difficult.
The personnel at Nasser Hospital’s morgue are part of an international initiative involving doctors, health officials in Gaza, as well as academics, activists, and volunteers worldwide. Their objective is to prevent the casualty figures from being overshadowed by the deteriorating conditions in hospitals.
Despite facing shortages of food and water for their families, these workers persist because documenting the number of Palestinian fatalities holds significant importance to them, according to Hamad Hassan AlNajjar. He emphasized the immense psychological strain associated with the work, recounting the shock of encountering the badly damaged remains of friends or relatives.
The recorded data is consolidated by workers at a central information center established by the health ministry at Nasser Hospital, pooling information from operational emergency departments and hospitals across Gaza. Ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al Qidra stressed that the numbers reflect verified data, although some bodies remain unrecorded due to lack of information or direct burial without passing through hospitals.
Concerns about potential undercounting persist, especially as only six of Gaza’s 36 hospitals were reportedly receiving casualties as of the latest available information. The United Nations and the World Health Organization continue to vouch for the quality of the data, despite challenges in verifying the figures.
Dr. Ghassan Abu Sitta, a British-Palestinian surgeon who volunteered in northern Gaza hospitals, noted that some deaths are attributable to untreated wounds. The death toll is viewed by some as an inadequate measure of human suffering, according to Dr. Annie Sparrow, a pediatrician with extensive experience in conflict zones.
The article concludes by highlighting the significance of keeping records in Palestinian culture, underscoring the enduring impact of historical conflicts and displacement dating back to the Nakba in 1948. Palestinians view the current Israeli offensive within the context of this historical struggle, emphasizing the need for accurate and comprehensive casualty figures.