There is no one in Jabaliya refugee camp who doesn’t know my cousin Raed, known as Abu al-Walid.
He has a cheerful spirit and a deep love for Yasser Arafat. He has always remained a loyal follower of Fatah, especially since he was a member of Arafat’s security team when the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994.
I vividly recall the day when, amid a crowd of kids and residents in my neighborhood of al-Ajarama, we gathered along the main street to greet Arafat’s motorcade. I spotted Raed in one of the cars and felt sheer delight at the sight of him.
He waved and smiled.
This occurred in 1994, with the arrival of the Palestinian Authority leaders in Gaza, led by Arafat.
Raed is the muezzin of al-Ajarama Mosque, or the Mosque of Ali ibn Abi Talib. He is a skilled volleyball player, having played for the Jabaliya Youth Club team.
He is also a swimmer; he regularly walked to the beach and swam in the early morning.
He taught me how to swim and to love volleyball, which I played in college.
Raed is an activist. He has over a dozen accounts on Facebook due to the company’s biased policy against Palestinian activists.
He is a passionate Barcelona fan. But he is the only Barcelona fan in my circle who you can debate with about which team is better, Real Madrid or Barcelona.
Conversations on sports and politics with him are a joy.
He owns a 2001 sky-blue Hyundai Accent. He refuses to exchange it for a newer car.
Raed is the eldest son of my aunt Haleema.
After she was martyred recently alongside members of her family, including eight grandchildren, Raed is no longer the lively and cheerful person he was before.
In addition to his mother, Raed has also lost his son and daughter, and seven nieces and nephews.
Part of him has died.
He has aged quickly, and his smile has faded. He has lost all meaning in his life.
He expressed his pain to me in a Facebook video call, and I promised him that I would convey this to the world.
A message from Raed, in his own words
Israel killed my beloved mother, who was the blessing of my life, not only a mother but also a friend. They took away the joy of my life, my firstborn son, Walid, who is my pride and support.
They took away Asma, my dear daughter and the love of my soul, whom I call Assoum. Even though God took away her mental and physical health, as she [has a disability], he planted in my heart an endless love for her.
Asma, this angel, who, as soon as I return home, runs to hug me and puts her cheek on mine.
They took her from me, too. They took my house and my memories in it.
They took a lot and left me alone in this world. It’s cruel that they also took my sister Ilham and her daughter Najwa.
How will I live when I’m used to having my children around me, my brother Ahmad’s children, my sister Ilham’s children, and my sister Reem’s children and my cousins’ children?
How will I live when most of these children are gone?
You know, Tamer, I named this group “the gang.” Israel killed my gang.
They killed the joy that we spread everywhere.
Today, my gang has vanished as Israel continues to refuse to see the children of Gaza play and enjoy themselves. Most members of the gang were killed by Israel:
My son Walid.
My daughter Asma.
My brother Ahmad’s four children.
My sister Ilham’s daughter.
My sister Reem’s children Yamen and Rawan.
Some members of the gang survived because they were not in the same place during the bombing. But the gang is no longer like before.
All of Jabaliya knows my little gang. We used to gather together with love and resilience.
We used to play, celebrate and create beautiful moments that brought us together.
We used to go to the Gaza beach and parks, visit ice cream shops in every neighborhood. We spent time west of Beit Lahiya, playing under the fruit trees.
The little ones were always so excited when I prepared the pool for them, which I made using a large container for rainwater.
Those beautiful memories built over the past five years have disappeared.
The occupiers killed my gang for no reason.
Could it be that Israel did not understand what I meant by “my gang” in my Facebook posts?
Could it be that Israel did not see in the pictures that the gang members were children?
The occupation took away from me those I love, and it left me with a body without a soul.
I die a hundred times a day as I remember how they died, and I couldn’t protect any of them.
And today, those who remain with me from my family are my brother Ahmad, who is paralyzed from the waist down. He is only 35.
He is trapped at al-Shifa Hospital, along with thousands of displaced people.
Why do we live if it is destined for us to lose our loved ones?
How will our lives be when the occupation forces have distorted everything that remains?
Why didn’t we die as they did? That would be more merciful than living moments of emptiness and pain that never go away.
Tamer Ajrami is a student of political science living in Belgium.