In October 1973 – 40 years before the events of October 7, 2023 – war broke out in the Middle East. The Egyptian army launched Operation Badr, crossing the Suez Canal and capturing the Bar Lev Line, a fortified sand wall on the east bank of the canal.
Palestinian refugees were full of hope that their land would soon be liberated and they would return to the homes from which Israel had expelled them. That did not happen. Instead, after the end of the war, Arab leaders sued for peace with Israel.
A few months later, the Palestinian satirist Emile Habibi, published his novel The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptomist, a metaphorical critique of the Palestinian reality. The novel tells the story of Saeed, a Palestinian who lost his village in the Nakba of 1948. Amid the misery of dispossession and occupation, he wanders through the world with his head bowed in case he finds a shekel on the street to cheer him up.
I wake up every day trapped in the world of Saeed. The mass death in Gaza continues. Yet I must search for a penny on the ground, a signifier of better things to come. Could the January 26 ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) be that?
On December 13, Al Satar Al Sharki, the eastern part of my city, Khan Younis was subject to a ground invasion by the Israeli army. The four children of my relative Alaa, a teacher at a United Nations school, along with her ex-husband, Musa, were caught in the middle.
During the attack, Israeli soldiers expelled the children from their home and arrested Musa along with all the teenage boys and men in the area. Musa’s mother, who was witness to this brutality, tried to call Alaa, but the soldiers took the phone. Since then, Alaa has heard nothing of her children – eight-year-old Yamin, six-year-old twins Kanan and Orkid and three-year-old Karmi. Are they ill, imprisoned, starving – or worse?
Alaa’s desperate attempts over the past 45 days to find her children through organisations like the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) were met with the usual cold rejection by the Israeli army. She reached out to journalists, local and social media, and now, she turns to anyone who will listen, walking in the streets of Rafah, turned into a concentration camp for more than one million people, looking for her children.
Her voice is a relentless cry of despair in the darkness. Each passing hour etches another year on her soul as she battles the waves of anguish, barely pausing to eat or sleep. Like all of Gaza, she has become a living ghost.
The ICJ ruling brought no relief to Alaa. The Israeli army still refuses to provide any information on the whereabouts of her children.
“The State of Israel … must cease forthwith any acts and measures in breach of those obligations, including such acts or measures which would be capable of killing or continuing to kill Palestinians,” the court declared on January 26.
Israel denies that it is engaged in such acts. Yet on January 29, Israeli tanks opened fire in Gaza City on a car full of civilians, trying to flee to safety.
Fearing for their lives, they reached out to the PRCS, pleading for salvation. Fifteen-year-old Layan Hamadeh was on the phone with the PRCS when the tanks opened fire again. Screams can be heard in the recording of the call, then silence.
Only six-year-old Hind Rajab, Layan’s cousin, survived. She spoke on the phone with the PRCS, telling them that her uncle and aunt and her four cousins had all been killed and she herself was injured.
PRCS staff set out to find her, but communications were cut off. More than a week later, Hind’s fate and the fate of the PRCS rescue team remain unknown. Her mother, Wissam, is living in hope that she will emerge alive. She is asking the same questions as Alaa is: Is Hind ill, injured, starving, imprisoned – or worse?
Throughout Gaza, people are starving. The besieged Nasser Medical Complex and al-Amal Hospital in Khan Younis are now under attack. Supplies of food, medications, oxygen tanks, water, and essentials for staff, patients and thousands of displaced people have run out. Even more distressing, news reports indicate that the army is breaking into these hospitals and forcing people to leave.
In Gaza, the air is thick with sorrow. Every heartbeat is a testament to resilience in the face of unimaginable loss.
In Washington, the air is thick with betrayal. Every statement and every act by the US government, Palestinians believe, is a testament to brutality, cowardice and failure to uphold basic human values.
After the ICJ decision mandating Israel to stop its genocidal activities and ordering provisional measures, including ordering the Israeli authorities, as the occupying power, to ensure the delivery of basic services and essential humanitarian aid to civilians, nothing has changed. Genocide in Gaza continues.
I find myself walking, like Saeed, with my head bowed in the hope of finding a penny’s worth of hope.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.