My cousin gave birth, then Israel bombed her home

An Israeli airstrike destroyed Israa and Yousef’s home in Jabaliya in Gaza. They had only lived in it for six months. (Photo courtesy of family)

My cousin Israa and her husband Yousef had been saving to buy a home since 2018, when they were married.

They knew it would take a long time to save enough to buy a home in Jabaliya in northern Gaza since homes were expensive and Yousef worked as a taxi driver.

Still, Israa had visions of what it would be like to own a home.

“Once I had my own home, I’d be able to do whatever I wanted,” she told me over the phone. “I’d select the painting, pick my own furniture.”

In 2021, the couple put all their savings toward a home and borrowed the rest.

Their house was under construction until April 2023, when they finally moved in. The ceiling was made of asbestos, but Israa saw the house as a palace, with gray marble in the kitchen.

They lived there for six months.

Birth and destruction

Amid its current war against Palestinians, Israel dropped flyers over northern Gaza, telling residents to evacuate.

Israa was pregnant. She packed the essentials, including clothing for the new baby.

On 12 October, just days after the family evacuated, Israa experienced birth contractions and knew she was in labor. Due to the Israeli bombardments, she was scared to go to the hospital or leave the home where they had taken shelter.

They waited until the last moment to go to the hospital. But they did not arrive on time and she gave birth on the doorstep of the home.

When their baby was nearly a month old, on 2 November, they learned that Israel had bombed their new home.

They tried to be optimistic.

“The house can be rebuilt,” Yousef said. “Thank God, we’re still alive.”

A home lost

My cousin Walaa was married in July 2021. She lived a lovely and secure life with her husband and baby until August 2022, when her home was bombed for the first time.

They lived in Palestine Tower in al-Rimal, a neighborhood of Gaza City.

The Israelis targeted an apartment above theirs. As a result, Walaa and her family’s home was severely damaged and rendered unfit for human habitation.

They moved in with her brother-in-law until their new home in the Sheikh Radwan area of Gaza City was complete.

They were about to move into their new home when the Israeli attacks began this October.

Her new home was bombed on 3 November.

“We couldn’t go there ourselves because of the heavy attacks that day,” she said.

She learned from her brother-in-law that the home had only been partially destroyed, and she felt relief.

“Then, my neighbors informed us the next day that our house had been destroyed. It was completely destroyed.”

“We cried,” she said. “We all cried.”

White phosphorus

My cousin Alaa works as a radiologist at al-Shifa hospital – the largest in Gaza – and barely sees her four children these days.

In October, after Israel began its attacks on Gaza, Alaa miscarried. Though the exact cause of the miscarriage cannot be determined, Alaa believes it was due to her inhalation of the white phosphorus chemical that Israel uses in its attacks.

They moved in with her husband’s family in Gaza City’s Beach refugee camp once Israel’s war escalated.

On the night of 6 November, they were asleep in their beds at this home, or barely sleeping, wondering how they would feed their family the next day, how they would keep their family safe.

Then, everything around them turned black. The dust clouds were so thick they couldn’t hear each other’s screams and pleas for help.

Alaa was terrified that one of her children would be killed. The family was rescued from the building, which an Israeli airstrike had totally destroyed.

The family spent that whole night in the street, without shelter. It was too dangerous to travel at night.

The next day, they moved to another home farther north, where they are certain to face more perils.

My cousins are grateful to be alive. They know that homes can be rebuilt, but they also know that the mental damage of losing your home, repeatedly, is permanent.

Why does Israel target residential homes? Does it want us to despise our homeland and imagine different futures elsewhere?

Its war on Gaza has already displaced over 1.5 million Palestinians from their homes.

Will we have homes to return to? Or, like my cousins, will we have to rebuild?

Rana al-Shorbaji is an English teacher and writer.