Blogbox | Palestine

The day I found my six-year-old cousin on Instagram

By - 14.03.2024

Seeing the destruction of Gaza from Kosovo.

October 7, 2023, started as a good day for me. Initially, my only worry was how to catch the right bus in the country I had just moved to, Kosovo. 

I came to Kosovo as an international volunteer from Germany in September, working with a NGO. My first weeks in Kosovo had been spent doing basic things like figuring out the bus system and meeting new people. 

Then I saw the first pictures of the day on my Instagram feed. My stomach immediately started turning. 

Watching from afar

I was born in Germany to a Palestinian father and a Jordanian mother. I remember the countless times during my childhood in which I saw my dad looking very stressed while watching the news. He would tell me that our family is there. Meanwhile, all I wanted was to play with my toys. Everything seemed so surreal to me back then.   

I have witnessed my family survive four wars from afar over my lifetime. But this was different. I knew from the first second that it was going to end brutally. Yet I never could have imagined that it would go this far. Even though I lost my belief in western standards of humanity years ago, I didn’t want to believe that humans, people, could be capable of such monstrosities. I felt like I was falling into madness. 

Since the brutal massacre in Gaza began, it’s been a long string of endless days, waking up every morning and wondering if my family members are still alive. Days of being afraid to text a family member, in fear of again having to tell my father that someone had died. This is all new to me and something I wish that I would never have had to do. 

At first, I didn’t know if quitting and moving back to support my father was the right decision or if it was better to stay and do all the things I still wanted to do in Kosovo. On October 25, I went back to Germany for two weeks to be there for my parents. After that, perhaps because I just wanted to leave a country that was so openly supporting Israel, I felt that I had to return to Kosovo.

Growing up, I had little contact with my family. I never felt connected to people that I had never met in real life. Phone calls just never did it for me, and maybe I never wanted to connect to them out of fear of actually connecting with them when I knew I could lose them. Now I regret every moment in which I decided to not talk to them. With some, I will never get the chance.

My father never returned to Gaza after fleeing to Egypt as a child, due to fear of military assaults or another intifada. Seeing how the situation in Gaza has progressed over the years, I understand my father. I knew what happened to my uncles and aunts when they visited their homeland but were denied exiting permission out of Gaza and got stuck there. 

Seeing how the situation in Gaza has progressed over the years, I understand my father.

My father was five years old when his family left Gaza. His eldest brother, my uncle, stayed behind. He is still there. My aunt had been living in Saudi Arabia, but returned to Gaza in retirement, no longer wanting to live in a foreign country. She is still there. My other aunt was living in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) when she went to visit her brothers in Gaza over 20 years ago. Israeli authorities cancelled her travel permit during her stay and she was not permitted to leave Gaza. She is still there. She has not seen her kids, who remain in the UAE, since then.

In 2000, after the Second Intifada began, Israel cancelled many of the travel permits, using bureaucratic methods to limit my chance of ever visiting my family.  

I always feared the day Israeli bombs would take away that chance for good, through much more violent methods. Of getting to know my roots. Of seeing the beautiful beach my father still dreams about. Now, it is happening. 

It’s been five months and nearly everything is gone. 

Humanity is failing

On November 6, I learned that 15 members of my family were killed. It was my first time seeing pictures of my dad’s cousin. Down to the grandkids, everyone in that branch of the family was killed. One of them was Youssef, my six-year-old cousin who was, according to the people around him, full of life. In the initial announcement, I saw a picture of him and a few of the other killed kids. 

On November 20, I followed an Instagram page featuring the martyrs of Gaza when suddenly, a picture of 6-year old Youssef popped up. 

I never thought I would see my family on this page. But I was only hoping for that alternative reality. For a different fate for Youssef, Abdullah, Hanan, Isra and countless others. 

I never thought I would see my family on this page.

In December, my uncle’s wife died as well, but it wasn’t a rocket that took her life. It was a lack of insulin. Israel has restricted every form of aid coming into Gaza: food, medicine, water and even diapers. A limited amount of aid that managed to get into Gaza has mostly not reached the north, where she was. Outrageously, some of the aid trucks were hit by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). 

My uncle’s wife was not the only one in my family affected by the lack of medicine. My cousin has Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. He was supposed to travel out of Gaza on October 12 for treatment in Ramallah, in the West Bank, but has not been able to. His health has been declining now rapidly, the lack of food is only worsening his condition.  

Sadly, it hasn’t been enough in the West for Palestinians to showcase our martyrs. It was not enough to see people carrying the blown-up remains of their kids in multiple plastic bags. Not enough to see the lifeless body of a child hanging only by their torso on a building. Not even the dead were left alone, dug up by the IDF, their bodies left in pieces afterwards. 

Sadly, it hasn’t been enough in the West for Palestinians to showcase our martyrs.

Watching from Kosovo

I have encountered varying responses in Kosovo. Most people have been understanding and told me about the lasting pain of the 1998-99 Kosovo war. Yet there were some that were against the Palestinian cause on the grounds that Palestine opposed Kosovo’s independence and because the United States is a strong supporter of Israel. 

Many might forget that for Palestinians, it leaves a very bad taste when a new country is established while Palestinian self-determination has been neglected for so long, particularly by the countries that have backed Kosovo so strongly. I understand why Kosovars are grateful to the US given the central role the US played in ending the 1998-99 war in Kosovo. However, I don’t understand how for some, that loyalty is worth more than our collective humanity. 

Humanity has failed before, in Srebrenica, in Rwanda, Drenica, Xinjiang and endless other tragedies. It is failing now in Gaza. 

When countries and institutions say “Never Again,” what do they mean? What are they saying “Never Again” about? How many “Never Agains” does it take until this never happens again?

Photo Credit: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0

Want to support our journalism? Become a member of HIVE or consider making a donation. Learn more here.