Families can’t be replaced

Massive destruction in Jabaliya refugee camp. 

Mohammed Alaswad APA images

I have relatives who are still in northern Gaza – months after Israel ordered all its inhabitants to leave their homes.

One of my cousins told me his entire life now revolves around surviving another day – or even another hour.

“Here in the north, bombardment and destruction became the new normal. Nowhere is safe,” he said in a desperate tone.

On 19 December, Israel committed a massacre in al-Nazla, the neighborhood where he lived.

“Israel killed more than 100 people, but there is no one to cover what is happening,” he added.

The day after, Israel bombed two houses opposite his house.

“Thank God, no one was killed,” he said, referring to that particular incident.

On 23 December, Israeli forces launched a land invasion in his area, leaving behind more mass destruction.

“Our family’s house, my grandfather’s house, my uncle’s house, and nearly 20 other homes in our street alone were flattened to the ground.”

In the Jabaliya area of northern Gaza, entire blocks have been wiped out, leaving my cousin speechless at the magnitude of destruction.

“My father has spent all his life building our six-story house, ensuring one furnished apartment for each one of my three brothers,” my cousin explained. “We had left three cars in the garage.”

The value of the losses was estimated at about half a million dollars.

Due to the lack of humanitarian aid entering the north of Gaza, finding food or even water that is safe to drink became impossible.

“Literally, there’s no food, no flour and no clean drinking water. I’m drinking dirty water, and I don’t know what to do. I just need to survive,” my cousin said.

Life in the Gaza Strip has come to a standstill in all aspects, particularly education. All universities have been demolished.

“I was a medical student and there were about 200 medical students in my batch. Other majors like information technology had over 3,000 students,” my cousin said, “Where will they pursue their education?”

My cousin emphasized that there is nothing called normal life in Gaza.

“We have no life here. To survive is our routine. We just go search for food, listen to the news and sleep.”

No one is safe in Gaza, not even animals.

“I wish I could describe the bloodshed. Our house was everything. When we returned, everything was rubble, with dead animals from the tanks that rolled over them.”

Simple wish

Another cousin of mine – also still in northern Gaza – told me on 4 January, “We are still alive despite the relentless bombing of tonight.”

My cousin’s only relief was having all his family around him.

“We are still together no matter how much they have bombed. This is all that matters.”

My cousin explained that he doesn’t wish for food or any humanitarian aid to reach him. His wish is “just a ceasefire to relieve the pain we’re experiencing.”

“Today I was walking near the Universities Roundabout. The more I walked, the more dead bodies I saw in the streets,” he said. “You just find people killed everywhere.”

A different cousin of mine emigrated to Greece in 2017 to escape the siege imposed on Gaza and the lack of job opportunities. He managed to become a worker in a hospital, helping his family financially.

The last time he could speak to his family in Gaza was on 18 December.

“I have been trying to send money to my family from the beginning of the war,” he said. “But all my attempts were in vain as they couldn’t receive any.”

After many attempts to reach his family, my cousin could finally contact someone from his neighborhood in Gaza City’s Beach refugee camp.

My cousin knew that Israeli forces annihilated nearly the whole neighborhood, demolishing their house.

When my cousin was told that his family is still alive, he initially didn’t believe it.

“I thought that he [the contact] was trying to protect my feelings by not telling me that my family was killed,” my cousin said.

“I asked him to tell the truth, even if my family was killed.”

The person reassured my cousin that the family are fine and are living in their relatives’ house.

“Our house can be rebuilt,” my cousin said. “But my family cannot be replaced.”

That is a sentiment shared by everyone from Gaza.

Khaled El-Hissy is a journalist from Jabaliya in the Gaza Strip. He is now in Jordan. Twitter: @khpalestined

Asmaa Abu Matar contributed reporting.