Our stories matter

A home damaged by an Israeli airstrike in Deir al-Balah, Gaza, on 12 December 2023. (Omar Ashtawy / APA Images) 

Six months ago, I reluctantly left Gaza. Even though I was happy in my new life in Qatar with my husband, I yearned for home.

Today, though, I know I can’t go back. I can’t handle seeing the Gaza that I once knew as it is now.

I was born and raised in Gaza. Life was difficult there, but when I moved to Qatar, anytime someone asked me about my home, I had only good things to say – that there was no place like home, that I missed everything about it: people, relationships, the land, the sky.

Before October, I found myself urging my husband to arrange a visit for us to Gaza. I felt I had so much more to accomplish in the place that shaped me.

I had always wanted to enroll in another university course with Dr. Refaat Alareer. He had been my professor and was the guiding force behind my advanced study of the English language.

He also sparked my passion for literature, in particular poetry.

Dr. Refaat was different from other professors. From the outset, I could tell he approached teaching with genuine interest and creativity.

Dr. Refaat instilled in me the importance of searching, reading and writing without restraint. During one course, where we learned to write feature stories, he told us: “Your stories matter. You live here. You know what is happening like no one else on earth. Read, write and narrate.”

Tragically, Dr. Refaat’s life was cut short. Israel killed him and members of his family in an airstrike at the beginning of December, leaving a void in our literary community.

Despite the pain of losing him, his teachings endure. He championed the idea that our stories matter, that the narratives of our lives hold significance.

His words echo in my mind: “Read, write and narrate.”


When I left Gaza, I had insomnia. I had to move around to different places in the home to get to sleep.

I missed my bedroom in Gaza. It was my sanctuary.

Yet my bedroom is now gone, destroyed in an Israeli airstrike. Imagining the joy that my family experienced in that home is painful, as it can never be recreated.

My uncle’s wife Fadwa was a woman who deeply loved her home and family. Despite the growing unrest in Gaza, she declared that she would never leave her home.

It was not just a physical connection that she had to her house but a spiritual one. She was moored to the life that she had created in that home.

However, she was forced to evacuate by Israel, like the vast majority of people in Gaza. It was a matter of survival.

What a heartbreaking moment: steadfast for so long, then forced to abandon her sanctuary.

Then, the unthinkable happened. An Israeli sniper shot Fadwa in her lung and in her stomach on al-Saftawi street.

There were no ambulances to come and save her, so my uncle called a family member to help. They made it to the Indonesian hospital in Gaza on a donkey-driven cart.

Aunt Fadwa was at the Indonesian hospital when Israeli troops besieged and attacked it. She died at the hospital.

My uncle was not at her side. She died alone, separated from the home she loved.

At this time, I remembered Dr. Refaat’s words.

“I am an academic,” he said. “Probably the toughest thing I have at home is a [whiteboard] marker. But if the Israelis invade, if they charge door to door to massacre us, I am going to use that marker, throw it at the Israeli soldiers, even if that is the last thing I would be able to do. And this is the feeling of everybody. We are helpless. We have nothing to lose.”

Complete erasure

Aunt Fadwa is just one of the many killed by Israel. In my life, I have lost 10 more.

Ten friends.

Each with a soul.

Each with stories untold.

The Islamic University of Gaza: destroyed by Israel.

Every school from my childhood: destroyed.

In this upheaval, the canvas of my recollections is being erased. I am left to grapple with the reality that Gaza is being reduced to rubble.

As I contemplate a future visit, I am haunted by uncertainty. Will the landmarks of my childhood still be there?

Will I find pieces of my home in the rubble?

Still, I can’t stop thinking about Gaza. My love endures.

Rana al-Shorbaji is an English teacher and writer.