Bahaa Masalmeh was planning to shower his young wife with gifts on her upcoming 21st birthday, which he had been planning for several weeks.
But on January 15, Ahed, a mother of a six-month-old baby daughter, was shot and killed by Israeli forces during a raid into the town of Dura near Hebron in the southern West Bank. She was inside her brother-in-law’s house at the time, watching for her husband’s arrival at a window.
The couple had only been married for 15 months, but Masalmeh said his wife had left him with his best memories and that she had given him the “best days” of his life. Ahed was a keen learner, loved by “everyone”, he said – her cheerful soul and thirst for life were contagious.
“She was the love of my life,” he told Al Jazeera. “She was the epitome of everything good in life.”
Now, he has been left to raise their daughter, Ayloul, without her.
Masalmeh had dropped Ahed off at his brother Shadi’s house that morning to prepare for another family celebration. There, she met up with her husband’s other siblings and father to help get the house ready for Shadi’s marriage.
Her last words to her husband were: “Don’t I look as pretty as a full moon.”
‘In a dream’
A few hours later, Masalmeh returned bearing food for everyone. He saw Ahed peek out of the second-storey window gesturing in her usual humorous way at him to hurry up because she was hungry.
Just seconds later, however, Masalmeh heard some young men in the neighbourhood calling out to him, warning that Israeli soldiers had entered the area and were approaching Shadi’s house.
“All I could hear then were the sounds of live fire and bombs,” Masalmeh said. “I ran upstairs and my sisters were screaming and wailing. I then saw Ahed on the floor in a pool of her own blood.”
Masalmeh thought he was “in a dream”, and, for a moment, thought Ahed was pulling “one of her pranks”.
But she had just been shot in the head with two bullets.
“I approached Ahed, and the first thing I saw were her eyes looking at me. She was smiling,” he said.
Meanwhile, his father attempted to call for an ambulance. Masalmeh wanted to run for help but he could not leave the house because of the Israeli soldiers stationed right outside. Eventually, Ahed bled to death. Palestinian officials in the West Bank and in Gaza have also accused Israeli forces of often preventing ambulances and medics from evacuating the sick and wounded in time.
Tahani Masalmeh, Bahaa’s sister, was with Ahed the moment she was shot.
“No words can describe what happened to us,” the 25-year-old told Al Jazeera.
Before the incident, she said, her sister-in-law had suddenly – and strangely for her – brought up the topic of “death and parting”.
“Ahed told me that I should protect her daughter, Ayloul, and always keep her in my sight as if she was my own child. This was even before there was an incursion,” Tahani said.
“I was surprised by her words, and thought she was joking, just like she always does.”
Tahani said she vividly recalls Ahed bleeding out for some “50 minutes” before she took her final breath.
Ahed’s sister, Sumoud, 30, who lives in Ramallah, said she was shocked to hear that her sister had been killed.
“The journey from Ramallah to Hebron would usually take two hours. But after the war on Gaza, and with the crackdown on Palestinians at the checkpoints, it took me six hours to reach Ahed,” she told Al Jazeera.
Sumoud described her younger sister as “her first baby”, and was adamant she would make it to her funeral procession.
The Israeli army has been intensifying its raids on towns and villages in the occupied West Bank.
Hundreds of people have been killed in the West Bank since October 7. More than 6,330 people have been arrested, according to the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society.
Ahed had “big dreams”, her husband Masalmeh said. The university student was planning on studying primary education after she graduated, planning to juggle her role as a mother to a small child.
The couple had just opened a small business online together, and he was going to help with the deliveries.
“She told me we would be successful and grow our business. All I wanted to do was support her in any way she needed,” Masalmeh said.
Masalmeh sees a lot of Ahed in his daughter, he said, especially in the way she laughs, smiles and plays.
“I plan on fulfilling Ahed’s dreams for Ayloul,” he said. “She will grow up and become a doctor, the best doctor in the world.”