I tell my story not for pity but in defiance

A group of mourners pray over four bodies wrapped in white body bags

More than 12,000 children have been killed in Gaza since 7 October.

Naaman Omar APA images

Mustafa Ali Hamed Muammar is my cousin.

Mustafa is director of the Jusur Alamal association for special education.

In 2006, he was arrested from his family’s home in Gaza, along with two brothers, on charges of belonging to a resistance group. His brothers were released but he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

This is his story, in his words:

In the crisp April air of 2016, I emerged from a decade-long imprisonment hopeful of a fresh start.

For years, I had clung to the promise of freedom, envisioning a future filled with the embrace of family life.

I worked to establish myself, finally ending up with the Jusur Alamal school for special education, working with, and for, children with disabilities.

It was rewarding.

And with my dear wife, Arkan, we started a family with hope and love.

I had a few years of taking my first steps into the world beyond Israeli prison walls.

But one fateful night in October last year, the night sky erupted in a cacophony of chaos and destruction.

Israeli warplanes, like dark angels of death, descended upon our neighborhood, reducing homes to rubble and lives to mere shadows of their former selves.

In the madness that ensued, I found myself fleeing for safety to the European Hospital in Khan Younis, unable to reach my home.

But there, I was met there with yet another onslaught of devastation.

Everything has now been taken from me.

Israeli missiles, in their indiscriminate fury, tore through the fabric of my existence, snatching away the lives of my beloved mother Naima, 68, Arkan, 32, and my innocent children Batoul, 7, Ali, 5, and Hani, 2.

The end of dreams

Though I was spared from witnessing the horror first hand, the weight of loss bore down on me with crushing force.

As I approached the hospital, my heart pounded with a mixture of dread and despair. The weight of what awaited me felt like an anchor dragging me down into an abyss of sorrow.

With trembling hands and aching limbs, I pushed open the doors and stepped inside, steeling myself for the sight that would greet me.

There they were, laid out before me in white bags. My knees buckled beneath me as I collapsed in front of them, the reality of their loss crashing over me like a tidal wave.

Tears blurred my vision as I reached out, desperate to touch them one last time, but all I could feel were the cold, lifeless contours of the bags.

There was my mother, who had waited so patiently for my return.

There was my wife, my rock in the storm of adversity. Arkan, the Arabic word for pillars, was the strength that sustained me through years of suffering. Now, that pillar is gone, and with her, all my dreams lie in ruins.

There were my children, the very light of my life, all in one bag, their identities reduced to fragments of clothing.

My Ali, Batoul, and Hani are just three of the more than 12,000 children killed by the Israeli war machine in Gaza since 7 October. They became statistics in the devastating toll of Gaza’s suffering.

But pain is no number. The pain, for all those parents who lost their children, is the same, is overwhelming, and is unbearable.

I, who rarely showed harshness, find myself haunted by the memory of their disfigured bodies rather than the lively, innocent children I once knew.

Justice and dignity

The journey to bury them was a harrowing ordeal, each step heavier than the last.

A truck, laden with the bodies of my immediate family along with 24 other relatives, became a somber procession of grief as we made our way through the streets of Gaza.

Bodies were stacked upon bodies. There was no space for dignity or solace.

We bade farewell amid a chorus of wails and cries, our hearts breaking again and again with each passing moment. The pain was palpable, a raw wound that refused to heal.

Yet, even in our darkest hour, there was no space to fully express our sorrow. In Gaza, grief is a luxury we cannot afford – there are tents to be built, mouths to feed, and wounds to tend to.

As I stand amid the ruins of my shattered dreams, I’ve realized that freedom alone cannot heal the wounds inflicted by war and injustice.

I tell my story not for pity, but in defiance.

We are not just casualties of conflict. We are human beings with hopes, dreams, and a fierce determination to rebuild amidst the rubble of our shattered lives.

Gaza continues to suffer under the weight of oppression. My plea is for justice, for dignity, for the chance to rise from the ashes and reclaim our humanity.

We refuse to be silenced by the roar of bombs or the indifference of the world – we will endure, we will rebuild, and we will triumph.

Bashaer Muammar is a Palestinian activist and translator from Gaza.