Palestinians in search of missing family members amid Gaza war

The Al-Mansi family stands as a poignant testament to the agony of the missing amid the Israeli war.

Five months have passed since Hazam Al-Mansi, a father and grandfather of 13, vanished without a trace, leaving an incomprehensible void.

“Hazam was the pillar of our family, the father, the support; he was everything to us,” says Fatina Al-Mansi, Hazem’s wife, her voice breaking with tears.

“Every day, I weep for my daughters. We have four daughters and two sons, and each one bears the burden of their father’s absence differently.”

For Hazam’s daughters, the pain of his absence is profound, their tears a daily reminder of the void left by his disappearance.

“We long to hear his voice, to feel his comforting embrace once more, to hug him,” says his eldest daughter, her voice trembling with sorrow.

Hazem, 60, suffers from chronic diseases and nerve allergies, requiring ongoing treatment. However, due to the Israeli war in Gaza, medications have depleted in pharmacies, and many have closed. Additionally, UNRWA health clinics have been shut since October 7.

“We searched everywhere for treatment, but it was not available. Most medications were running out of pharmacies. Without his nerve treatment medication, Hazem’s nerves began to spasm,” explains Fatina.

“Hazem’s condition worsened over the next thirteen days after treatment was interrupted. One day, our neighbour told us there was a pharmacy open in the Al-Rimal neighbourhood. As soon as Hazem knew that, he quickly went there without waiting. I asked him to wait for one of our sons to go, but he refused,” she continues.

“I pray every night for his safe return, hoping for reassurance… We long to know his fate, whether he is alive or dead. At the very least, we wish to provide him with a proper burial”

Conditions in the Al-Rimal neighbourhood were exceedingly challenging and dangerous, compounded by the Israeli army’s westward expansion of ground operations in Gaza City.

Since November 6, Hazam Al-Mansi has been missing. He went out and did not return.

“We do not know where he is or what happened to him,” says his wife, her heart heavy with grief.

“We have searched every corner, every shelter, hoping to find even a shred of information,” she whispers, her hands trembling with emotion. “But all we are met with is silence.”

In their search for answers, the Al-Mansi family reached out to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), hoping for assistance in locating Hazam. Yet, their inquiries have yielded no response, leaving the family in uncertainty.

“I pray every night for his safe return, hoping for reassurance,” his wife expresses. “We long to know his fate, whether he is alive or dead. At the very least, we wish to provide him with a proper burial,” she says.

“Don’t they say that honouring the dead is burying him? I want to bury him. I want him to have a grave so that we can remember him and that his children and grandchildren can visit him.”

Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor estimates that more than 13,000 Palestinians are missing, either buried under rubble, victims of indiscriminate mass graves, or forcibly hidden in Israeli prisons and detention centres. Some may have been killed within these facilities.

The Israeli army has not released any information regarding the circumstances of these deaths. Independent bodies have not been able to verify or ascertain the circumstances, and the bodies have not been recovered, identified, or returned to their families.

Uncertainty and fear for Nael Al-Yazji

In the heart-wrenching story of the Al-Mansi family, another plight unfolds. Nael Al-Yazji’s wife describes bearing her anxieties like a mountain.

“We’ve endured every aspect of this Israeli genocide. We face hunger, fear, death, and anxiety daily. Living under constant bombardment has become our norm,” says Dana, Nael Al-Yazji’s wife.

“We’ve witnessed the suffering and fear etched on our children’s faces. Yet, nothing compares to the agony of not knowing Nael’s fate,” she continues.

In late March, Israeli forces invaded Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, committing atrocities against civilians both inside and nearby.

Nael Al-Yazji, 32, had sought refuge in his family home nearby. However, Israeli forces violently raided their home, kidnapping men and forcibly relocating women southward.

“To this day, I know nothing about Nael, whether he was killed or captured”

Dana’s harrowing recollection paints a vivid picture of the night terror descended upon their home. “The army suddenly stormed in,” she recounts. “More than 20 soldiers, accompanied by dogs, unleashed a barrage of gunfire to instil fear. Then, they swiftly blindfolded and restrained us.

“At that moment, I was separated from my family — my husband and children — surrounded only by the cacophony of screams and cries,” she recalls.

“I was held captive for several hours in an unknown place. There were others screaming alongside me, but who they were and where we were, I don’t know,” she adds.

Untied by the soldiers, Dana and her children were directed towards Al-Rashid Street, with orders to head south. Despite her desperate pleas for information about her husband, Dana received only shouts in return. With no alternatives, she went southward with her two children, ultimately reaching Deir al-Balah.

“To this day, I know nothing about Nael, whether he was killed or captured,” the grieving mother laments.

“Nothing is more agonising than when the children ask for their father, and I don’t know how to answer them. They don’t understand our circumstances.”

Ongoing searches: The case of Saleh Ghazi

“Saleh Ghazi” (name changed to protect identity), has been missing for two months, leaving his family in a state of desperate longing for any news about him.

“Saleh was at home in Al-Shati camp after his family was displaced to the south, but he stayed in Gaza City due to his work at Al-Shifa Hospital,” explains Mohamed Adli, 28, Saleh’s friend.

“When the Israeli army last invaded Al-Shifa Hospital, I lost contact with Saleh for 10 days until the army withdrew. Despite relentless searching, there was no trace of him. His family and I continued to reach out, hoping to find any information, but to no avail,” Adli adds.

The area where Saleh’s house is located was subjected to relentless Israeli bombings. Despite exhaustive efforts by the Civil Defense to search for bodies under the rubble, there was no trace of him found.

“We are trapped in a nightmare, unsure if Saleh is alive or dead if he has been taken prisoner or lost beneath the rubble,” laments Amin, Saleh’s father, his eyes filled with anguish.

“All we ask for is an answer, a chance to mourn if he is no longer with us, or the hope of his safe return if he was arrested.”

Mahmoud Mushtaha is a Gaza-based freelance journalist and human rights activist. He works as a media assistant at We Are Not Numbers, a project of the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor

Follow him on Twitter: @MushtahaW

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