A few months after my wedding, I now live in a tent

Palestinians set up tents in Rafah, near the Egyptian border, after being forcibly displaced by Israeli airstrikes, 5 December 2023. (Mohammed Talatene / APA Images) 

I’ve always been ambitious – on a search for who and what I will be in the future.

I graduated from the University of Palestine in Gaza with a degree in law and started to look for work. The employment prospects in Gaza have never been plentiful but I was open to working in any field.

I never found a job in law, and I ended up opening a coffee-roasting shop. It was not a future I had ever imagined for myself but I was successful in this endeavor and I found myself happy and fulfilled.

But in July 2014, Israel launched a war on Gaza. Israel destroyed my shop in an airstrike, crushing my ambitions and livelihood. Besides the income it generated, the store had been a part of my heart.

Overnight, it was reduced to ashes.

I love Gaza, but the destruction of my shop made me consider what life would be like elsewhere. In some other place, perhaps I could accomplish something that would not be destroyed overnight.

Yet leaving Gaza is difficult. Israel denies us the proper permits.

And even if I received the necessary permits, I would still face severe limitations on where I could go.

Turkey was the only option where I could go and work. I was overjoyed when I got all the paperwork together to travel to Turkey.

I said goodbye to my family and set off.

In Turkey, I felt miserable. I missed my family and my home.

I had no job, no home, no friends. I constantly questioned whether I had made the right choice to leave.

Eventually, I learned to like Turkey. I got a job at a tourism company and got to know the city where I lived well.

I earned a decent income to cover all my expenses.

My friend and I even talked about starting a company of our own. The future looked bright.

Then, after four months, I learned that Turkey had denied my request for residency. I had to return to Gaza.

This cycle of setbacks was becoming familiar in my life.

Starting over, again

I returned to Gaza confused. While I was happy to see my family again, I was not looking forward to starting over.

But there I was, back at the beginning, looking for work in a sea of unemployed college graduates. Being unemployed took its toll on my mind.

I felt restless and on the verge of surrendering to whatever fate threw at me.

Then, I had an idea. I would get involved in real estate. I would offer guide services to people interested in purchasing land or a home. I would be a mediator between buyers and sellers.

I got to work, advertising my services on social media. I opened an office.

People started to call me. I felt that old ambition rising up again. I was overjoyed by my prospects and felt like I could start to solidify my future.

I bought a home and a car. I got married this year.

I was saving for the future. Finally, at age 30, I felt like I had met some of my goals.

My honeymoon

Soon after our wedding, I woke up to the thunderous roar of bombs. My wife and I were terrified.

I read the news. Israel had launched a war on Gaza.

It showed no mercy and was targeting children, the elderly – everyone. Hospitals were overwhelmed with injured people.

Bodies were piling up. It was a horrifying scene.

After a week, Israel announced that we must leave the north. We were expected to leave behind our homes and cars, our very lives.

We were to carry on in this world as newborns, with nothing to our names.

This was my honeymoon. Carnage and destruction at every corner.

We lost everything: our home, our car. My company that I had worked so hard to build into a successful venture.

I was familiar with starting over from scratch, but never in my life had I lost so much at once. I felt there was nothing more for me to live for.

Will I ever be able to reclaim all that I achieved?

We live in a tent now, in Gaza’s south. Israel continues to drop bombs. Everyday is a question of survival.

Will we live, or will we die?

I wake up before sunrise and search for food and water. I spend half the day trying to find some place to charge my phone.

There is no electricity, no internet.

This is my life now.

Yousef al-Hallaq is a law graduate from Gaza.