Life in Gaza is on hold

The ruins of a building after Israeli bombardment

Gaza’s destruction has been comprehensive and left all future plans up in the air. 

Omar Ashtawy APA images

It’s January, a time of year when we remember the past year’s accomplishments and successes and plan for the new year.

I’m sure that this is a ritual that most people around the world follow. I used to do it myself every year.

It is a valid ritual for most.

But not for the people of Gaza, not this year.

This new year in Gaza was very different. It has come during a savage Israeli aggression that has stolen most of what we have accomplished, not only during this last year but through our lifetimes.

This new year was a time for many of us here in Gaza to mourn and grieve those and what we have lost, as well as the plans we’ve had to pause, maybe forever, since 7 October.

I had both big plans and small ones.

The morning of Saturday 7 October was supposed to be a happy morning for my kids Khalil, 5, and Seba, 4. They woke up at dawn, very excited, had their breakfast and insisted on wearing their traditional Palestinian clothes very early in the morning in preparation for a kindergarten trip to an olive grove for the traditional annual harvest and to cook zaatar pastries.

I took a photo of them and we sat together in our living room waiting for the bus to pick them up.

Among the first areas that were targeted on 7 October was al-Zahra, where the olive grove my children were supposed to visit is located.

Khalil and Seba never made it there, thankfully. But their kindergarten was bombed.

The photo I took of Khalil and Seba was the last I took in our home before we had to evacuate. The traditional clothes they wore that day were left behind like the rest of our memories and possessions.

What remains

I had another plan for that weekend. I was going to a spa to give myself a little reward after a busy week of work and single-parenting my children.

Of course, I never went.

The spa was bombed.

My face is pale. I have dark circles under my eyes, constant companions since 7 October.

I had bigger plans too. Some are canceled and others are on hold.

In case I survive this genocide.

When 7 October happened, Khalil and Seba were adjusting well to their new kindergarten, and I was almost halfway through paying off the mortgage on the apartment I bought five years ago.

I thought it was the perfect time to design a new room for Khalil and Seba, reflecting their favorite cartoon characters, from Spiderman and Frozen, and to have desks for both of them now that they have homework.

I also thought I would redecorate the living room and buy a new couch.

I have no idea if there’s anything left to decorate.

The last time I saw my apartment was about two months ago in a video taken by a neighbor.

Two floors in our building had been bombed, and the neighborhood looked like a scene from a dystopian movie. My apartment was damaged.

My dream now for my apartment is just to find the walls standing so I may collect some memories. It seems far-fetched considering the scale of destruction we see in al-Karama neighborhood in northern Gaza, and considering that the Israeli army is now stationed in our area since the start of the land invasion.

October was also supposed to be the first month of studying for a master’s degree in international development at the University of York. I had been accepted for a part-time two-year online program that fits my schedule as a working mother.

But I couldn’t even communicate with the university to defer my start date until late October when I was finally reconnected to the internet. I’m now supposed to start in October 2024.

If I survive this genocide.

Many other plans for my personal life and for my career are now indefinitely on hold, but so are those of two million people in Gaza. I asked my friends on social media what their plans had been on 7 October, and their stories are just heartbreaking.

Shattered dreams

A few months ago, my friend Seba, 32, was very excited when her in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure finally succeeded after two years of failed attempts. Seba was strictly following doctors’ instructions to stay rested, lie on her back as much as possible, and not do any strenuous physical activity until her pregnancy became stable.

Seba had a doctor’s appointment on 9 October. Of course, she was neither able to visit the doctor nor follow the strict instructions to rest as she had to evacuate her home several times, running from the bombardment in eastern Gaza and eventually ending up in Khan Younis in the south.

Seba was supposed to have moved to Canada, where she lives with her husband, once she completed her fifth month of pregnancy and it was safe for her and the baby to travel. She was terrified of losing her baby but decided to travel anyway and take the risk.

She made it to Egypt. Unfortunately, what she went through emotionally, mentally and physically, was stronger than her pregnancy.

She lost her baby in Egypt.

Unlike Seba, most Palestinians in Gaza do not have the possibility of travel. Only Palestinians who hold other nationalities can leave Gaza, and only after their embassies coordinate with the Egyptian and Israeli authorities.

“Our life has turned upside down in a blink of an eye. Maybe my baby would’ve lived if this aggression never happened,” Seba said.

It’s not only the baby that Seba lost, but also the hope of doing a new round of IVF, an expensive procedure. Seba lost her livelihood after her clothing boutique was destroyed.

“I lost my business. I don’t know when I’ll be able to afford another round of IVF. I waited two years for it to succeed,” Seba told me.

Despite the pain of losing her baby, Seba said she still felt luckier than most.

The last photo the author took inside her flat. 

“My pain feels small compared to that of Gazan mothers who lost their children. The children they gave birth to and raised for years. Mine wasn’t born yet.”

Abdelrahman has been married for seven years. He had started to lose hope of ever becoming a father after tens of visits to doctors and two IVF procedures for Amal, his wife.

His two married brothers also had no luck in becoming fathers.

But Abderahman’s father convinced him to travel to Egypt for one last IVF procedure before giving up.

Abdelrahman and Amal traveled to Egypt in September and Amal did the IVF. This time it was successful.

The joy was short-lived, however. Shortly afterwards, Abdelrahman received the news that his father had been killed.

“Our joy is not complete. My father was dreaming of becoming a grandfather but he was killed before it came true,” Abdelrahman said.

No future

My friend Amal said Israel’s genocidal aggression had forced a delay to her mom’s chemotherapy and there’s no way of knowing if or when she’ll be able to resume her treatment.

“It’s terrifying that my mother is not able to get her treatment for that long,” Amal said. “This is causing a lot of anxiety and stress on top of everything else we’re going through.”

My friend Mirna, who is Christian, lamented her family’s lost Christmas.

“For me, my family, and friends, we canceled Christmas celebrations. Our children’s joy in decorating the tree, the gifts and the new clothes, all canceled,” Mirna said.

It’s hard to think about this now, but like anyone, anywhere in the world, people here in Gaza have aspirations and dreams they work hard to achieve despite all the political, economic and social obstacles unique to occupied Gaza that were imposed long before this genocide started.

We want to love, have families, build homes, study, work, have fun and simply live a decent life – a normal life – enjoying all the rights and freedoms that most of the world does.

And while the stories I share are painful, they are far from the most painful here. These are all stories of people who have been lucky enough to survive so far, to have access to the internet, to have a device that’s charged enough to interact, and to have the time to respond in what has become a daily grind to secure the basics of survival: water, food and shelter.

Tens of thousands of Gazans have lost their lives already. Hundreds are losing them daily.

Almost none of them had the opportunity to talk about their dreams and their pain and suffering before they were killed.

Thousands of Gazans are losing loved ones every day. Their plans to live and create memories together are gone forever.

Hundreds of thousands of Gazans have lost their homes and lifetimes’ worth of memories, all buried under rubble, along with thousands of those murdered by Israel’s unhinged assault, and who emergency services have been unable to reach.

Since 7 October, plans have not only been canceled or postponed: Planning has stopped entirely.

Everyone’s focus is almost entirely on surviving, amid the death, destruction and broken dreams of Gaza.

Sarah Algherbawi is a writer and journalist in Gaza.