My friends have lost their homes and families. I know that, in a split second, that could be me. Maybe it will be me next time bombs rain down.

GAZA CITY –When my grandfather drove over Thursday to bring my mom something from my grandma, I suddenly felt an enormous urge to go down to meet him, which is something I don’t always do when he just comes to drop something and leaves.

Since the bombing started last week, I’ve been grasping at any chance I have to meet my loved ones; because that chance might be my last. Everyone in Gaza these days talks to their family members, friends and even followers on social media as if this might be their last time speaking to them. The traumatizing reality we are living here, and the constant fear of losing one’s family, friends, house, memories and everything that makes one human, has turned us into people who live to survive the day; every day is our last day, every breath is our last breath, every word, hug, or kiss is our last.

Israel and Hamas agreed Thursday to a cease fire. But I can’t forget, even when there weren’t any bombings in the area, the nerve-racking sound of Israeli drones buzzing above your head. It is enough to give you a perpetual sense of danger. Reminding you that no matter when or where you are in Gaza, you’re not safe. Trying to sleep with that sound over your head is a different nightmare altogether.

Rahf Al Hallaq in Gaza City, in March 2021.

Lives ruined, families destroyed

People in Gaza now have barely had any sleep. We only sleep after we reach a level of fatigue where we can no longer stay awake, and we just drop almost unconscious. We’re awake and alert most of the time in case we have to evacuate our houses and run for our lives. That’s supposing the Israeli occupation forces gave us the chance to escape in the first place before leveling our homes to the ground.

Two of my classmates, Zainab Al-Kolak and Rewaa Al-Zamly did not have the privilege of being warned before their houses were bombarded. Rewaa told me, “We weren’t given any warning. We just suddenly saw our roof falling over our heads.”

Rewaa’s sister-in-law, who was 5 months pregnant, was killed by the Israeli missile strike along with her 2-year-old daughter, Rewaa’s niece. “We caught my nephew as he was flying in the air by miracle, or we would have lost him too,” she said. Rewaa’s mother was pulled out of the rubble and was also severely injured.

As to Zainab’s story, well the least I can say was that my friend Zainab survived a massacre. She lost 22 members of her family including her mother Amal, her two brothers Taher and Ahmad, and her only sister Hanaa. She was injured and had to undergo surgery.

While reading these stories you are probably thinking of them as something alien that you will never experience even if they devastate you, and I absolutely hope that they remain so. But to people here in Gaza these stories are an indisputable reality. Rewaa texted in our American literature group chat, “Guys please pray that they pull my mom and sister-in-law alive from under the rubble.”

A fireball and smoke billow up into the air during an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City early on Saturday, May 15, 2021. The strike targeted the Ansar compound, which is linked to the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip.

I remember the shivers those words sent down my spine. It suddenly struck me that death was much closer to me than I imagined. This could be me. This could be any one of us. It made me ask myself once more the question I always ask myself: I was lucky enough to survive multiple aggressions on Gaza Strip before, one of which lasted for 51 days in 2014. Will that luck be enough to make me survive yet another? It seems I have. But how soon will the next conflict start? What if it’s our turn next time?

The sight of my young siblings playing and laughing together always makes me smile, but ever since the bombing started that smile has always been accompanied by a painful pang. The pang that comes after remembering I might lose them in a split second, and that laughter could be turned into a deafening cold silence.