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men walking amongst debris from destroyed buildings in gaza

A new year begins, but in Gaza, the horror does not end

An Islamic Relief aid worker* in Gaza who began 2023 as a happy Master’s graduate contemplates the loved ones, the home, and the hope he has lost in just 3 excruciating months.

As I write, it is the last day of 2023. A year I started by completing my Masters degree in sustainable development. In the middle of the year, me and my family vacationed in Istanbul, Turkiye, and had one of our greatest times together. I felt this year was one of the best in my life.

Until October, when our lives lurched into the unknown.

In the last 3 months I have grown older, I have sunk into depression, I have lived in fear, I have witnessed horrors. In the last 3 months, I have lost people I loved, I have lost my home, I lost my beloved city, the place of many fond memories. In the last 3 months, our future has looked darker than ever. In the last 3 months, I have lost hope in the international community, in human rights, and in justice in the world.

And still, this harrowing experience is not over.

A new year and our wedding anniversary

A new year starts tomorrow, which will also be my wedding anniversary. I met my wife after we graduated from college: we worked together for a short time before falling in love. We married and started our small family. We married on 1.1.2011 – a wedding date with lots of 1s.

We used to celebrate our anniversary every year. We didn’t go out on dates, preferring instead to take the kids to our favorite restaurant: a place called ‘Mazaj’, which in English means ‘mood’. But this year, the restaurant may no longer be standing. This year, we will have no celebrations. This year, I do not even have warm clothes – we left so much when we evacuated our home – so I have had to buy a few secondhand clothes to try to keep warm.

Me and my wife used to visit our families on the anniversary of our wedding. We would take a cake and spend time with them, laughing and sharing good times. This year, we are living at my parents’ house but there are no cakes – the bakeries closed in the early days of this war, and people are struggling to even find bread. This year, my wife’s parents are in another city, and reaching them requires a dangerous, difficult journey – so we will miss them this anniversary.

This year, our families are torn apart, like so many others in Gaza, mourning losses, and struggling to survive.

Our annual New Year’s beach ritual obliterated

Usually, the morning of the 1 Jan is a holiday in Gaza. Our annual ritual was to go for an early morning drive with the kids, to get breakfast. We’d head north, where the beach was quiet, less crowded, and sit in the car eating Manakish Zaater (thyme bread with olive oil) or falafel with a cup of tea.

This year, the tanks that invaded Gaza have erased the whole beach. The streets are just rubble. All the places in that area are totally destroyed. Yet, my memories stand solid, indestructible. I will never forget.

Tomorrow, I will have been married to my beloved wife for 12 years. We are an average Palestinian family from Gaza. We hope for a bright future for our kids. We hope for a place for them to thrive, to enjoy their childhood, to play, to travel, to live, to drink clean water, and to grow normally. In these times, every simple wish is becoming an impossible feat. This year, our kids are deprived of education and normality. Usually, we would be working with them to prepare for their winter exams – but it is more time and effort than we can find during this crisis, but we still miss it. We want to get back to our lives. We want this to stop.

We start 2024 as displaced people

So tomorrow my wife and I start a new chapter in our life as displaced people. Displaced like our parents, who in 1948 fled their village during the Palestinian Nakba, becoming refugees in the process. ‘Displaced’ and ‘refugee’ are terms describing suffering and pain, and Palestinians can be called both at the same time.

Sorry, my dear wife, I cannot send you flowers this year. I cannot gift you your favorite perfume or a new bag. I am a displaced Palestinian with plenty of reasons for not doing so. This year’s anniversary will be like no other, but I promise you we will create new memories and have more time together. Ahead we have lots of work to rebuild our house, to educate our children, and to continue our life together.

My personal memories and life events are not separate from the whole Palestinian society suffering in Gaza. We have endured too much for dozens of years, not only during these last 3 months. Yet the world is strangely selective, using ethnicity and color to decide what is right and what is wrong.

Exhausted Palestinians want only an end to this suffering

Here in Gaza people are now without homes, wandering the streets looking for food and water. I see them, the people that the international community treats as invisible. I know them, the people the world regards as voiceless. I am with them, the Palestinian people, who all share an overwhelming exhaustion, who all just want an end to this suffering.

We know that we cannot go back to a life full of roses – that version of the past never existed, after all. But we are desperate to swap the current reality for anything, even the start of new suffering as survivors rebuild a destroyed city, restart basic services, try to remember where the streets were, look for demolished classrooms, and reopen much-needed facilities.

In the first couple of months since the escalation began, people would say they were okay – but not anymore. In Gaza today, “We are tired, exhausted,” is the trending phrase. We have all had enough. We just want an end to this. Just stop the killing, and we can find our way out of this nightmare.

Please help Islamic Relief support people in desperate need in Gaza: Donate to our Palestine Emergency Appeal now.

*This blog is anonymised to protect the safety and security of our colleague and others mentioned. Read the other blogs in this series here.

Editor’s note: This blog was submitted amid a fast-changing and deepening crisis. The information was correct as of 31 December 2023.

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