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Monday, May 10, 2004

Palestinians desecrate graves in Gaza cemetery


Essam Jaradeh, head gardener of the Commonwealth cemetery in
Gaza, inspects the damage to 33 graves after headstones were
knocked over and posters of the alleged torture of Iraqi
prisoners were pasted on many graves in Gaza May 10, 2004.

From Haaretz, rearranged for clarity: Gaza was the site of several World War I battles, when the British captured the region from the Ottoman Empire. During the World War II, Gaza housed several Australian hospitals and was a base for the Australian and British air forces.

The cemetery, one the eastern edge of Gaza City, holds the graves of more than 3,000 World War I Commonwealth fighters and 210 fighters from World War II, including Muslims, Jews and Christians from 17 countries. More than 200 fighters from other nations are also buried there.

The desecration of the war cemetery began Sunday evening, when about 10 Palestinians, some armed with rifles, entered the neat 10-acre plot, which is surrounded by a large stone wall, said Issam Jaradeh, chief gardener of the cemetery.

Jaradeh and his brothers, who live in a house bordering the plot, ran into the cemetery when they spotted the vandals and chased them off, he said Monday.

By the time they were chased out late Sunday, the vandals had destroyed or desecrated 32 graves, breaking the headstones of some and gluing photos of the abuse on others. The message: "We will revenge," was printed in English on a photo of a naked Iraqi prisoner tied to a leash being held by a U.S. soldier.

Several gravestones were smashed, including one, presumably the final resting place of an unknown soldier that was engraved with a cross and the words: "A soldier of the Great War known unto God."

Other headstones were covered with pictures of the reported abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, emblazoned with a swastika and the words "U.S.=U.K."

British officials said Monday this was the first time they have recorded deliberate damage to any of the nine Commonwealth cemeteries in Israel and the territories, where more than 16,000 war dead are buried.

It was also a blow to reverence of the large, well-manicured site that Gaza residents have long respected and visited as one of the few places with green grass in the crowded city. With 3,427 simple white graves, the cemetery is the third largest in the Levant.

You will note that rule of Gaza passed from the Turkish Ottoman Empire (1500s) to the British (1917), to Egypt (1948), to Israel (1967), then to the Palestinian Authority. Yes, on May 18, 1994, Israeli troops left most of Gaza and control was passed to the then Palestinian National Authority pursuant to the Oslo accords.