Israeli soldiers made an unexpected historical detour while fighting in the Gaza Strip when they ran across a well-kept World War I British military cemetery.
Adding to the surprise was that some of the graves were those of Jewish soldiers, signified by Stars of David, Ynet reported on Wednesday.
The graves, located in the center of the Gaza Strip near the town of Al-Maazi, were discovered by soldiers of the IDF’s 188th Armored Brigade.
“We found about seven gravestones of Jews out of hundreds. We photographed the names with a description of the gist of the battle in which they fell,” Lt. Col. Oren Schindler, commander of the 118th Brigade’s 74th Battalion, told Ynet.
“We returned [to the site] after a few days … and said kaddish [the Jewish prayer for the dead] on the graves,” he said.
“It was an exciting moment. I told myself it wasn’t just our fight—our war is here, because they also fought here at the beginning of the last century,” he added.
Pictures posted to X of the soldiers holding the Israeli flag next to the graves have gone viral, with one tweet gaining more than 3.5 million views.
Some claimed the well-kept cemetery showed that Hamas also protected Jewish graves, however, as Oren explained, “This is a facility that is maintained by the British through local authorities in the Gaza Strip.”
“It really is a special place. Amid all this destruction, to find a place that is a piece of heaven, green and clean,” he said. “It amazed us to find such a pure place in this cursed area.”
Oren said that just 100 meters from the spot, his forces fought against Hamas anti-tank squads that had attacked them with RPGs. The soldiers also found a lathe for manufacturing weapons near the cemetery.
“We didn’t check if there was a below-ground route under the cemetery because we didn’t want to harm its sanctity,” he said. “In other cemeteries, we located combat tunnels that Hamas had built underneath.”
The cemetery was slightly damaged in the fighting, but “it can be restored,” he said.
The cemetery is not the first site of historical Jewish interest that the IDF has come across in Gaza. In November, IDF soldiers prayed at a sixth-century synagogue in the enclave, the first time Jews had prayed there for decades.
Located in the Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City, it was built in 508 C.E. during the Byzantine period.
The site featured a famous mosaic featuring King David with a lyre and his name inscribed in Hebrew. That was transferred to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem after Israel captured the Gaza Strip during the 1967 Six-Day War.