Tuesday was supposed to have been Yara Shaheen’s wedding day.
Monday, as she sought shelter with her family instead of carrying out last-minute
preparations for her big day, the young Gazan woman held onto hope. Perhaps
there’s some mysterious reason, she mused, one that God only knew, that caused
this war to happen precisely now – forcing her family to call off the
She can’t otherwise explain it. Shaheen, 21, a student of
English literature at al-Azhar University-Gaza, was going for the final fitting
of her wedding gown when the news broke of the conflict last Wednesday, after
Israel killed Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari.
“I was at the shop,
wearing the white dress, when they killed Jabari. The moment I heard the news,
and I knew I would have to postpone the wedding,” she said. Shaheen left the
dress at the shop, went home and started family discussions over whether she and
her fiancé, Hussam, should cancel the wedding for 400 at the Love Boat hall, not
far from Gaza’s nicest beachfront restaurants and hotels.
disappointing. I feel anxious and so angry,” Shaheen explained in a phone
interview. At the same time, she said, she realized it could have been worse –
the war could have started in the middle of her wedding, or with less than 24
hours to cancel.
“Everyone in Gaza is in pain now, even the people who
are not directly exposed to the killing and bombing,” she said.
don’t care so much about the wedding, but that the people around me should be
safe. We’re watching news of children being killed – there’s no way we could
celebrate at a time like this.”
The Shaheens are a small family of
educated Gazans living in Tel el-Hawa, and like many Gazans, they are
desperately seeking a safe place to survive the conflict. Shaheen’s father works
at the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, while her mother is a psychologist.
One brother, Ayman, 20, is studying in Malaysia. Their youngest brother, Amir,
14, is hoping to go to the US next year with the Seeds of Peace program – which
started as a summer camp for Arabs and Israelis but which now does year-round
leadership programs in 27 countries.
Amir’s life has radically changed
since the beginning of the conflict. He doesn’t go to school, to meet friends or
to play soccer, as he normally would. And the noise of the allnight air strikes
is so frightening that now he also doesn’t sleep.
“It’s terrifying. We
haven’t slept for two days now because of the explosions and air strikes,” he
said. Friends’ houses have been damaged, he said, and one friend was injured in
But most palpably, they have been moving to a different place
each night because the area of their house seemed to be in the center of the
Two nights ago, they fled their home in Tel el-Hawa, south
of Gaza City, and moved into the apartment that was supposed to be Yara and
Hussam’s new home following their wedding night. It is close to Shifa Hospital,
which the family assumed would be a safer place to ride out the war because of
the expectation that it would not be bombed by the IDF. But Sunday night there
seemed equally bad, so they were seeking a third place – and contemplating going
“The last 24 hours were horrific for all Palestinians in the
Gaza Strip,” said Khalil Shaheen, Yara’s father and a senior official at
“In the last few hours, tens of houses were targeted. We are really
concerned that no place is now safe in all of the Gaza Strip. Hundreds of
families don’t know how to deal with this targeting of houses. I have relatives
in Rafah, at Gaza-Egyptian border and the military hit tunnels with tens of
bombs. So what’s the alternative for these families who live there?” he
On Monday, the Palestinian death toll rose to 101, Reuters
reported, using the Hamas-run Health Ministry as a source; among the dead were
24 children. Hospital officials in Gaza said more than half of those killed were
Three Israeli civilians died on Thursday in a rocket
“It’s not quiet for long,” the would-be father of the bride said.
“I’m hearing different explosions.
It’s covering the whole city. It seems
that wherever you go, you will hear bombardment, everywhere.”
has been postponed indefinitely.
If and when a cease-fire is reached and
calm returns to Gaza, Yara estimates that they’ll need at least another month to
start planning again, to re-book the hall and send out word to friends and
Amir said that he still expects to go on the “Seeds of Peace”
program next year, but his feelings toward Israelis his age is likely to be less
“I think everyone will act normal, but inside there will be
some kind of grudge,” he explained.
“I’m happy about one thing. For the
first time in our lives we are defending ourselves, we launched and fired
rockets at Tel Aviv. Perhaps these attack innocent people, but the Israel army
attacks innocent people here in Gaza. They have to also feel what we feel here.”