Unidentified in Gaza

The Dread of Unveiling the Identities of the Victims

Photo by: Saher Alghorra

Photo by: Saher Alghorra

Photo by: Saher Alghorra

Photos by: Sami Alsultan

Photos by: Sami Alsultan

Photo by: Kasem Alagha

Photo by: Sami Alsultan

Photo by: Saher Alghorra

Photo by: Saher Alghorra

Photo by: Saher Alghorra

Photos by: Sami Alsultan

Photos by: Sami Alsultan

Photo by: Kasem Alagha

Photo by: Sami Alsultan

In a subdued and difficult voice, Reem uttered the words, "Yes, this is my mother," as she tried to identify her mother in one of the refrigerators at a hospital in Gaza.

Everything happened swiftly; entering the hospital refrigerators was a terrifying experience, as Reem described it to us. In that moment, she requested her husband, her uncle, and her cousin, to also identify her mother, and they all affirmed, "Yes, this is your mother, Randa Labbad."

So, this victim was recorded under her mother's name.

"It was an extremely harrowing experience," says Reem, "because the moment we said it, regardless of whether what we said was true or false, she was recorded under my mother's name, sealed completely, and later buried."

However, after 12 days of the bombing that targeted the house where her mother lives in Beit Lahia, it became apparent that her mother was still alive, and the identified lady was not her mother. Therefore, that unidentified lady remains registered under her mother's name, and with each passing day, it becomes increasingly challenging to determine her true identity and register her under her actual name.

The confirmed information here is that there is someone out there looking for her, and they will not find her!

"Searching Inside Refrigerators for My Niece"

Reem, a mother of four with a degree in pharmacy, found herself not only searching inside the refrigerators of Gaza hospitals for her mother but also for her nine-year-old niece, the daughter of her brother.

The date of the tragedy was October 13, 2023, when an Israeli missile targeted her brothers' house, where they lived in a two-story building.

The first call she received after the targeting reported that everyone in the house had lost their lives.

"A shock beyond description, to be told that my family, our memories, and everything related to them were lost in seconds," says Reem.

However, as hours and days passed, it became apparent that there were survivors. While her brother Rami and his wife lost their lives, her younger brother, Mohammed, survived.

Contact was lost with her brother's pregnant wife and two children, one of whom is Rami's daughter and the other is Mohammed's daughter.

Once again, Reem found herself inside the refrigerator to identify her missing nine-year-old niece. She says, "I saw a little girl, doubted if she was my brother's daughter. I was afraid to confirm it because the moment I say she is, she will be recorded in the death register."

This young girl is still missing, along with around ten thousand others. It's uncertain whether they survived, lost their lives, or are still trapped under the debris.

In short, "these are moments of madness," describes Reem.

Today, Reem, alongside her brother Mohammed, searches for the missing family members.

However, Mohammed's search is not limited to finding his daughter alone; he is also searching for a baby identified as the unknown number 900 or 700.

The unidentified baby, labeled as number 900 or 700

It was around 5:00 PM when an Israeli missile targeted the home of Engineer Mohamed Labbad. He lived there with his pregnant wife and three daughters, while his elder brother Rami lived on the upper floor with his wife and three children.

Mohamed woke up in the hospital where he had been rushed for treatment. He said, "I was told that my wife had passed away, one of my daughters is missing, and she remains among the missing until now. Here, I also received the news of the death of my brother Rami, who worked as a nurse, in addition to the death of his wife."

A few days later, he received news that his wife was still alive and in the intensive care unit. She had given birth to a baby referred to as "the unknown baby number 900 or 700," a number that has not been confirmed.

His wife has passed away, and the baby's fate remains unknown.

When we met with Mohamed, two months had passed since those events, and he had not received any news about the baby. His sole hope is to wait until the situation calms down, allowing him to search for his child again, even if it requires DNA tests to confirm the child's identity.

Meanwhile, he shared photos of his eldest daughter and his brother's daughter on various social media platforms. He reached out to authorities to search for them . They are Rana Labbad, his 5-year-old daughter, and Randa Labbad, his brother's 9-year-old daughter.

Mohammad is now taking care of the surviving children, Adel and Sara, from his late brother.

Today, both Mohammad and his sister Reem reside with their families in the Red Crescent Shelter Camp in the southern Gaza Strip. They are facing the significant challenge of helping their niece and nephew, Adel and Sara, who lost their parents.

The children have experienced displacement repeatedly, culminating in their current situation. Despite the immense difficulty, they are striving to adapt and overcome the challenges they have faced.

Adel, aged 6, and Sara, aged 7, each have dreams. Sara aspires to become a doctor, while Adel dreams of becoming a teacher. However, their most cherished dream is to find their older sister Randa, hoping that she might alleviate some of the pain of losing their parents.

Hospitals are the primary focus in the search for the three missing children, but this proves exceptionally challenging in navigating areas targeted by Israel. There are 13 partially operational hospitals, two functioning at minimal capacity, and 21 hospitals not operating at all, according to the latest assessments by the World Health Organization.

All of this occurs amid a rising casualty count due to Israeli targeting, surpassing 22,000 Palestinians over three months. Tens of thousands remain missing, half of whom are children. Others receive treatment in hospitals without accompanying relatives. This tragedy particularly affects children.

Paramedics in Gaza are now using a new term, "WCNSF - wounded child no surviving family," to describe wonded children who survive without any surviving relatives. This term reflects the harrowing reality faced by many children in Gaza, where their lives change in an instant after losing parents, siblings, and grandparents, leaving nothing as it was.

Dr. Tania Haj Hassan, in an interview with the BBC, discussed this term. She mentioned that in Gaza's hospitals today, there are injured children who have survived without any surviving family members. According to Dr. Haj Hassan, who works with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), this term encapsulates the terrifying situation for many of Gaza's children, whose lives undergo a drastic change in a moment.

But what about the surviving newborns?

As for cases involving surviving infants, Dr. Ahmed Al-Farra, Head of the Pediatrics Department at Nasser Medical Complex where we met him, explains:

"We have encountered numerous cases involving pregnant mothers, some of whom suffered serious injuries, while others lost their lives. Surgeons and obstetricians had to handle these cases with precision and utmost speed to save the fetus.

There are cases where mothers passed away, and the infants were placed in the neonatal care unit. In other situations, the mother suffered severe injuries, remained in intensive care, and experienced amputations in all four limbs, but she survived.

These infants in the neonatal unit face a somewhat challenging situation due to the interruption of natural breastfeeding. The medical staff is working diligently to care for them and provide formula as much as possible until the necessary care is secured by a qualified medical professional or relatives in the event of the death of all family members.

There are many cases where the identity of their families is still unknown, and so far, no member of the family has been identified."