“We are still okay.”
This is the last message I received from my close friend, Yousef Dawas, who was killed along with his family on Oct. 14 during indiscriminate Israeli airstrikes on civilian homes in the northern Gaza Strip. I had messaged Yousef via WhatsApp at the beginning of the Israeli attack; with his reply, I felt that Yousef knew he would be the victim in the coming hours, that he had the unbearable feeling we all have of waiting for death.
Yousef was young, only 20 years old, with a talent for playing the guitar and a smile that could light up even the darkest of days. He was more than just a friend; he was my brother. He was beautiful not just in appearance but in the way he carried his dreams with grace. We shared our dreams together.
Yousef always used to tell me, “We need to see the world outside Gaza.” We dreamed about traveling together. But in light of Israel’s ongoing attacks on the strip, you can’t dream, you can’t plan for your future. You can’t plan what you will do even in the next hours, because your life is in the hands of an Israeli soldier, who turns your dreams to rubble.
Losing Yousef was a heart-wrenching blow, and it left me haunted by the fear of losing more friends. Israel’s relentless airstrikes are a constant reminder that we are in a struggle for survival. The question that hangs over our heads like a dark cloud is, “If we survive this war, how will we continue our normal lives?”
Two of my relatives, Kamal and Mohammed, have been trapped under the rubble of an Israeli airstrike for five agonizing days, and they remain there still. The capabilities of the Palestinian Civil Defense are woefully inadequate compared to the extent of the destruction wrought by the Israeli bombings. We don’t know if Kamal and Mohammed are still alive or dead, buried beneath the weight of broken buildings.
The anguish of not knowing the fate of loved ones is a shared experience among Gazans. In light of the brutality of the Israeli aggression and the extent of the destruction, more than 1,000 bodies remain stuck under rubble, according to the Palestinian Civil Defense.
In the face of the relentless violence that has engulfed us, I find myself grappling with a profound dilemma. The fear of losing anyone else is almost too much to bear. I would rather face death than witness the pain of further loss. But how can we, as survivors of this trauma, on the 18th day of Israel’s assault, find a way to piece our lives back together?
Our lives in our Gaza City neighborhood, Tal el-Hawa, have been shattered and buried beneath the debris of war. The situation across Gaza, and in particular in my neighborhood, is dire. Basic necessities have become scarce commodities. There is no water, no electricity, and no food. The grocery stores that once bustled with life now stand abandoned, and the scent of freshly baked bread has vanished with the closing of the bakeries due to the lack of fuel.
Transport in Tal el-Hawa has come to a grinding halt. Even if you wish to evacuate to supposedly safer places, you can’t. Many taxis stopped operating due to the danger of being randomly targeted by Israeli airstrikes, and because they don’t have gas. We have been left to grapple with the harsh reality of deprivation, as Israel continues to impose a cruel siege on us. Our lives have been reduced to a mere struggle for survival.
For the past few days, I had been without internet and power; I had lost contact with the world. I could not write anything. I could not organize my thoughts. I never imagined I would live under these circumstances; throughout my life, I always sought work and success to build a better future for myself, and to achieve my dreams.
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As I went to the hospital to charge my laptop and mobile batteries, and sat in a dimly lit room to write this story, I couldn’t help but wonder if it might be the last I would ever write. No one can guarantee whether they will be alive in the coming hours or not.
Now, as I browse social media, I am afraid to discover the deaths of other people we love. All I hope for now is to stay safe with my family, and to see my friends dream again after the war.