2023 was supposed to be my year


Female family members celebrating New Year 2023.
Fatima (left) with her family bringing in the new year, 2023. Photo: Fatima Elzahraa Marwan Shaat

The thirty-first of December 2022, an evening in our  salon, lights illuminating every corner, the walls filled  with banners, “Welcome 2023!,” a cake in the center of the table with “2023!” written on it, surrounded by chips, chocolate, Coca-Cola, and our favorite snacks; a video call between Mama and Laila, my eldest sister who studies medicine abroad. We are waiting for Baba to come from outside to put out the 2022 candles and wish a “Happy New Year” full of new dreams; our laughter echoes through the room as we collectively exclaim “Happy New Year 2023!” Baba prays, “May it be a year full of laughter, joy, and achievements.”

Fast forward to December 31, 2023. Evening, same salon, empty walls and tables, as now we cannot find the basic foods, we cannot find a cake or even the ingredients to make one at home. All the lights are off, untouched since October 7, 2023; no video call with Laila as there is no internet connection to ring her to tell her not to worry, we are alive, until now at least. You can find nothing but shattered hearts and faces marked by sadness; laughter has turned into the silence of uncelebrated moments.

No new wishes, no new plans.

What I used to wish for, and what I wish for now

My sisters and I used to make a full schedule to celebrate a new year; we used to make a plan for the day, which included a fancy lunch, different kinds of games like UNO and LUDO, and a lovely evening. All of this now seems like a distant memory.

Now I wonder what kind of new year’s wishes I used to make. Was I praying to pass my exams with excellent grades? As always, the coming of the new year coincides with the period of our midterm exams. I remember telling Mama, “No canceled plans. Even if there are exams, no worries. I will figure it out, and you will see.”

Was I praying to travel the world?

Was I praying to find the one?

I have no idea, as now I am not asking for more than life with my beloved ones. Does it sound a lot, asking for life? Does it sound harsh and complicated, asking to be surrounded by loved ones?

I need my friends back, I need my university back, I need my street back, and I need a semblance of my old life back.

The world is thinking that all we need is food and water, but no! Our souls are just as our bodies, in need of our friends and loved ones.

Food and water are fundamental for our bodies to survive, but who will help our souls to survive?

Lost connections

Two young women.
Fatima (right) with her friend Tala. Photo: Fatima Elzahraa Marwan Shaat

I lost connection with my two best friends, Tala and Ahmad.

How hard is it to be under the same sky, sun, and moon but know nothing about each other? We who used to talk daily and for hours, now cannot even wish a wish together.

And most of us here in Gaza cannot contact our families or friends; either they are stuck in the north of Gaza, where all the telecommunications broke down, or they are stuck in the south, where they can’t find electricity to charge their phones, or they can’t connect to the internet since the telecommunications network has been targeted.

My heart aches every time I remember that more than 27,000 people were killed, so there is no way to go back and call them, to check on them, or to hear their voices again, and they will be missed forever.

Fatima and her friend Ahmad. Photo:
Fatima with her friend Ahmad. Photo: Fatima Elzahraa Marwan Shaat

What did we do wrong that the world and the international community would fail us?

Whenever I remember that our best friend Mohammed, or “Hamo” as we used to call him, is not here anymore, and will never be here, the pain deepens.

I waited and waited for the temporary ceasefire to come so I could reconnect with Hamo again after the connection between us broke down, as his family had decided not to leave their home in the north. But, guess what? On the first day of the temporary cease-fire, we got the news that Hamo, along with his family, had been killed!

We waited and waited to check on him; we waited to hear his voice again and to see his smile again.

I waited and waited for his SMS checking on my family and me.

Young man smiling.
Mohammed Hamo. Photo: Fatima Elzahraa Marwan Shaat

In a blink of an eye, Hamo will not be here anymore.

What did Hamo and his family do wrong to be killed?

Why Hamo is not here?

Why will Hamo not be able to wish a new wish and make a new plan?

Why will Hamo not send me any SMS telling me, “When this ends, will you bring me Karnoosh?” (our favorite chips).

No justifiable answers!

The world is cruel, my dear Hamo. The world has failed you, but we will never fail you. You will always be remembered for your beautiful smile and lovely soul.

It was supposed to be my year

Whenever I look back on my life before October 7, 2023, I think how it had seemed to be ‘my year,” after a tough 2022; it was a year where I had been meeting and discovering the real Fatima and what she really wants from life.

young woman next to banner with words "Youth Diplomats."
Fatima at the youth diplomacy program. Photo provided by Fatima Elzahraa Marwan Shaat

I got accepted into all the programs and trainings I applied for, and I became a member of the Sharek Youth Forum (a partnership of the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the European Union); it was the first time for it to be held in Gaza, and I was the youngest member.

I became a writer. I finally became a WANNer; it had been a goal of mine since I was just 14 years old. And I delivered many training sessions related to my major as I dreamed of becoming a lecturer.

I was closer to everything I wanted; I was stepping confidently into my chosen path.
I met my new friends, Ahmad (I know nothing about how he is doing now, as he is stuck in the north and I am in the south), and Hamo (who was killed, as I mentioned earlier).

It was literally my year, but now, whenever I look back, I only see pain, destruction, and death.

In the blink of an eye, they shattered all my dreams and ambitions. My university was bombed, along with all the institutions, centers, and streets where I used to volunteer. They ended the life we had; all we have now are memories.

Betrayed by international law

It is painful that I am a student specializing in international law, the major that failed to protect our best friend Hamo, my colleagues in the same major, Osama Hothot and Sayel AlHenawi, and our great inspiration, Dr. Refaat Alareer.

I once studied that civilians must be protected and not be attacked.  Whenever I look I find treaties, covenants, and declarations talking about human rights, about women, about children, like, look! There is Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) AND Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC)  and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and its two covenants, and all of them tell us that human rights are fundamental rights for each and every person irrespective of their nationality, nation, color, and race.

But whenever it comes to Gaza, the international community stops talking about this and stops seeing Palestinians as human, and you can see the violation of each and every article in all the treaties. Ask yourself where are the main rules that govern international humanitarian law, where are the ‘distinction, proportionality, and precautions,” when we can see only the targeting of civilians and bombing of bakeries, hospitals, and schools?

People are evacuating to a hospital or a school, thinking it is a safe place, but they bombed a hospital and they bombed a school. There is a genocide being committed against us, and when anyone says that it is a genocide, they are not exaggerating, because there has been a real genocide against civilians, and I repeat civilians, because international law and the international community claim that they want to protect them!

We need support to be non-stop

We know that many people are supporting us and speaking out for us, but we need this to be non-stop, to put pressure on their governments in order to stop giving the green light to the Israeli occupation to keep killing us with full impunity.

We are going through a cycle of violence and losing our lives, and maybe my family and I will be the next family deleted from the civil records, because we cannot survive every time.

Nothing will change while we have war year after year and yet we can see the silence of the international community.

I ask myself, Fatima, why am I studying for this major when it is in vain, and it will be in vain until international humanitarian law comes into force in Gaza?

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