Editor’s Note: Hani Almadhoun is director of philanthropy at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency USA. He grew up in Gaza, where his family still live. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more CNN Opinion.
Was this real?
My nephew’s voice broke. Although he was calling me from Greece, I couldn’t tell if his words were coming from 5,000 miles away, from my ears, or from my own racing, panicked heart.
It took a few seconds for the reality of what he was saying to sink in; akin to when a dark nightmare we bury deep within suddenly finds voice in another’s words, leaving us utterly shaken.
My brother Majed. His wife Safaa. Their children Riman, 18, Siwar, 13, Ali, 7…
And nine-year-old Omar, whose dream was to be a soccer player.
All six of them, my family members.
At 5.00 a.m. in the morning, two hours before the announced truce came into effect, an Israeli airstrike killed my loved ones, along with their favorite cat, “Lucky,” while they laid in bed. As they either slept or deluded themselves into thinking they were asleep, shrapnel tore through the door and the ceiling that had shielded them for the past 45 days in Gaza. The very walls that once promised safety now crushed and trapped their bodies beneath tons of rubble.
Only Omar’s body was found, 20 meters away from the blast site. After this “fortune” of being found, the aspiring soccer player was hurriedly laid to rest.
The remains of my other family members still lie unrecovered, while my 71-year-old mother mourns in a pile of rubble, grieving for her tender and loving child. She hopes to shield their bodies from the hungry, stray dogs that roam nearby, fearing they might desecrate the sanctity of her son, his wife, and their precious children.
Days earlier, I was the one to share the news about the death of our cousin with my family over the phone from the US, only to discover they hadn’t heard about it yet. They live just minutes away but have been cut off from the rest of humanity for weeks now. They mourn the departed, yet there have been so many loved ones lost, leaving very little time to properly grieve. In a way, this cheapens the value of human life, where death itself becomes tragically abundant.
While some celebrate the meager number of humanitarian trucks granted entry into Gaza during the recent pause in fighting, it’s crucial to be aware that not a single commercial truck has entered since October 7. Barred from Gaza for two months, shelves of supermarkets remain bare, severely impacting everyone from civilians to humanitarian organizations that are already stretched past thin.
Water is scarce, and food has become so rare that a can of tuna fish would be considered noteworthy, not to mention the tenfold surge in prices for basic items like yeast, salt and canned beans. Cash is useless, leaving people to stand in breadlines, stripped of their dignity.
This is a facet rarely discussed in Gaza – people don’t want handouts, those with money would buy the things they need if only they could find them. Everyone is forced to rely on assistance now and not all organizations can effectively deliver it.
Before I lost connection with my mom, I heard close gunfire and shelling. Mom mentioned the Israeli military destroyed scores of residential buildings around them including our neighborhood mosque, stealing their right to worship, a place to seek solace or pray for the deceased.
This news struck me deeply – I’m grappling with a crisis of faith witnessing a genocide unfold, while my mother living under bombs and burying her loved ones still clings to her spirituality.
When I first began to write this days ago, I was pondering the fate of Palestinians in Gaza, and how life might change if this ruthless and bloody genocide were to cease. Far too many good people have been senselessly killed.
I wondered: who will step into the shoes of those gifted doctors, caring nurses and compassionate medical staff lost in Gaza?
Who will carry on the work of the hardened and experienced war reporters and storytellers who were killed in Gaza?
Can anyone ever replace the hundreds of educators, teachers, counselors, some of whom perished in the very schools turned shelters where they nurtured young minds?
And what about the thousands of students who won’t return to school and university because their lives and aspirations were cut short by a ruthless and senseless military campaign?
Who will take up the roles of the hundreds of engineers, makers and builders who lost their lives in the very buildings and streets they helped create?
And those coders, software engineers, techies, entrepreneurs, craftsmen, chefs – all gone, leaving behind memories and a trail of heartache.
Who will have the courage to dream of a future when the present is so uncertain?
Most importantly, I thought:
Who will fill the void left by the thousands of mothers and fathers who lost their lives due to the Israeli military destruction, leaving Gaza shattered and its people terrorized and scared as long as they live?
Again, I call on President Joe Biden to do everything in his power to stop the fighting and implement a permanent ceasefire, to stop the killing before other innocents in Gaza lose their lives.
These are irreplaceable individuals, not merely statistics or collateral damage but people cherished deeply by their loved ones.
In mere moments, they were tragically taken away forever.
I thought of those individuals deeply this week as I finally managed to speak to my family after two full weeks of no communication. There were numerous tears shed, unspoken words, and silences that seemed to scratch one’s soul.
Now, above all of these losses, I find that on the morning after Thanksgiving, at 5.00 a.m. in Gaza, the world lost a star soccer player. And all of these questions collapse on themselves.
Rest in peace, Omar.
You did nothing wrong. Your only crime was that you were born a Palestinian child.
Until next time, habibi.