I spent many happy moments as a child with Uncle Jibril. He always seemed to have a smile on his face.
Uncle Jibril – also known as Abu Shehda – lived next door to my immediate family in Jabaliya refugee camp, north of Gaza City. He was a constant presence in our lives.
Everyday he would brew coffee in our diwan – a space where men from the same extended family would gather.
His wife Haajar – we called her Aunt Um Shehda – was an elegant woman with a tattoo on her chin. Such tattoos belonged to the culture of her generation.
The diwan would assemble in the middle of our neighborhood. Most families in the al-Ajrami clan lived there.
I would regularly go there with my father to enjoy a coffee.
My uncle seemed to have a unique way of making coffee. He would tap his cups with artistic finesse.
As I get older, I have been imitating my uncle’s techniques to make very strong dark coffee, stirring it with the same motions he used.
My uncle used to sell second-hand goods. He would transport the goods in a two-wheel cart pulled by a donkey to a market at the heart of Jabaliya camp.
I can still vividly recall the first time I bought my first pair of sports shoes from my uncle’s cart.
“You are a brave and independent kid,” my uncle said. “How much money do you have?”
“Four shekels,” I replied.
“I will sell you the shoes for 3 shekels,” he said. “You can keep 1 shekel as pocket money.”
My mother told me a story about when I was a baby.
A week after my birth, my aunt visited my mother. My aunt cradled me, looked up to the sky, and said a prayer that God would grant her a boy like me.
At the time, she and her husband had seven daughters. She also wanted a son.
She then placed me on the floor and took seven steps over me. That was a ritual which she believed would enable her to conceive a boy.
As if by miracle, my aunt’s wish came true. She was to become the mother of a boy named Shehda.
While I attended a school run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) in Jabaliya, my uncle developed a small business as a merchant. He built a house and lived there until Shehda – his only son – got married.
My uncle died in 2005. Three years later, Shehda, his son, was seriously injured in Operation Cast Lead, a major Israeli attack on Gaza.
When he was admitted to an intensive care unit, it was initially thought that he would die.
My aunt firmly believed that if she forgave everyone who may have done her wrong, God would forgive her and save her son’s life. She visited people in the neighborhood, urging them to pray and seek forgiveness.
She also asked that she be forgiven for any mistakes she may have made, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
Against the odds, her son Shehda survived. My aunt was convinced that her faith – and especially her belief in forgiveness – saved his life.
A few days ago, I heard that Israel attacked the part of Jabaliya camp that included my aunt’s home. I was terrified.
It was nearly 11PM when I heard the news and I couldn’t reach my family in Gaza. Eventually, a friend of mine was able to speak with my father.
Through my friend, I learned that my aunt’s home was targeted.
My aunt was killed, along with her beloved son Shehda, his wife and their four children.
Eight of their neighbors from the al-Tatri family were also killed.
My aunt had lived a life full of kindness. Her life has now been taken by Israel as it wages a genocidal war against Gaza.
Tamer Ajrami is a student of political science living in Belgium.