What spontaneously comes to your mind when you hear the word “cemetery”? A gloomy, cold place where people visit the corpse of a loved one but prefer not to stay long, since it reminds them of their own mortality—right?
But there is a cemetery in Gaza that looks like everything but that.
A group of We Are Not Numbers participants, including me, recently visited for the first time the English Cemetery in Gaza, and we were astonished by what we saw. The land was covered by lush green everywhere and there were lots of flowers. Everything was clean and neat. In other words, while we expected the smell of death, there was nothing except life.
To hear the story of the cemetery, we met Mohammed Jarada, who inherited responsibility for the cemetery from his grandfather, Abo Rabee’. The English Cemetery, also called the Allies Cemetery, dates back to World War I, 1914-1918, when three battles were waged in Palestine between the forces of the British and Ottoman empires—ending with the creation of British Mandate Palestine in 1920. The British Commonwealth built the cemetery to bury the fallen soldiers. It is believed to be home for 3,217 Commonwealth graves from the First World War, 781 of them unidentified, as well as 210 from World War II. There also are 234 graves for soldiers of other nationalities.
Officially, Abo Rabee’ has worked for 55 years after being appointed by the queen of Britain to look after the cemetery. But he is more than 70 years old now and can no longer do his job.
“There are two cemeteries: This one in the northeast and another one in the middle of Gaza. This land is 40 dunums (40,000 square meters) and has about 3,800 headstones, but not all of them contain bodies, because they were missing,” Mohammed explained.
In addition to the European soldiers, there are some buried there who have Arabic or Islamic origins. For instance, one part of the property has 184 Turkish soldiers buried without any headstones; another corner is the resting place for 12 Muslim Indians and elsewhere four Egyptians are buried.
The cemetery has been attacked three times by Israel during its wars on Gaza—2009, 2012 and 2014. Mohammed’s family received funds from the British Commonwealth to repair the damage each time (unlike many owners of destroyed homes and businesses). Further, six workers are employed to take daily care of the cemetery, so it receives a great deal of attention!
According to Mohammed, “Europeans used to visit the cemetery regularly. But now, this rarely happens due to the blockade of Gaza; it’s very difficult to get in.”
Gazans may enter the cemetery with permission Saturday-Wednesday. They usually visit for a picnic and a sort of entertainment. However, if foreigners are present, no one else is allowed in—even the workers. “They use bodyguards to protect them, since they think Gazans are terrorists,” Mohammed added dryly.
Britain says its soldiers were killed to achieve peace in the region, when actually they wanted to defeat the Ottomans to occupy Palestine. What peace!
- The English Cemetery was created due to wars over our land, yet Gazans are kind enough to take care of it.
- The cemetery enjoys international protection and care, while Palestinians in Gaza, who are still alive, suffer every day due to the brutal violations of the Israeli occupation—with no international intervention.
- A large number of the graves are for Jews, who are also occupying Palestine.
- When Israel attacked the cemetery in 2009, 350 headstones and one of the walls were damaged. Britain asked Israel for financial compensation and received £40,000. By contrast, who compensated Palestinians for their enormous losses? No one.
Many Europeans underestimate Gazans, stereotyping them as terrorists and standing by the Israeli government and its brutality. Meanwhile, the bodies of their ancestors are buried in Gaza and people from Gaza look after their graves.