Gaza – Abeer Harb waited six hours for her fiancé’s body to be rescued from under the rubble.
The 24-year-old had only been engaged to Ismail Dweik since June, and the couple were busy making preparations for their wedding, when an Israeli air attack destroyed Ismail’s home, in the southern Gaza Strip.
Ismail, a 30-year-old ready to start a new life with Abeer, was killed on August 6, on the second day of Israel’s three-day bombardment of the narrow coastal enclave, which has faced numerous assaults during a now 15-year Israeli blockade.
He was among the 49 Palestinians killed in the latest round of fighting, which Israel said targeted the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an armed group active in Gaza. Nearly half of those killed were civilians, Palestinian officials have said.
Israel said the attack was a “preemptive” strike on Islamic Jihad, which it says was planning to launch attacks in Israel.
Abeer told Al Jazeera that Ismail’s family had invited her family for lunch, but that they had not gone because of the fighting.
Ismail told her that he would instead come and visit her soon, but it was a trip he was not fated to make.
“News started coming out about a house bombed in Al-Shaout camp, where my fiance’s family lived,” Abeer said. “I immediately grabbed my phone to call him, but he didn’t answer. I got scared and started crying so hard.”
According to his family, Ismail had returned home moments before the bombing, and was killed along with his mother. The attack appeared to target the home of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s commander in southern Gaza, Khaled Mansour.
“My eyes did not close all night as I watched the process of pulling out the bodies and the wounded from under the rubble,” Abeer said, as she struggled to speak while crying. “I was praying to God that Ismail would still be alive. I said to myself that I’d be satisfied if his leg was amputated or anything. The most important thing would be that he was still alive.”
Abeer Harab mourns her fiancé Ismail, who was killed along with his mother in an Israeli attack in the southern Gaza Strip [Hosam Salem/Al Jazeera]
“I was devastated hearing the news. I felt like my life had been stolen from me,” Abeer said. “My fiancé, Ismail, was very kind and generous and he had prepared a modest house for us.”
Abeer and Ismail’s story highlights the effect of the conflict on everyday life in Gaza, with life trajectories changed, or ended, in the blink of an eye.
“I still feel like I’m in a big nightmare. I don’t want to believe what happened. Israel destroyed my dreams and stole my joy with my fiancé.”
Wedding day tragedy
What was supposed to be the happiest day of Akram Abu Qaida’s life quickly turned to disaster.
The 24-year-old’s wedding day was supposed to be on August 6. There would be a party, and an opportunity to gather with family and friends, and officially start his new life with his bride.
Mohammed, Akram’s father, had explained that the family had made the decision, after the Israeli bombing began, to bring Akram’s bride home without a wedding ceremony, out of respect for the people killed.
Mohammed Abu Qaida opened the room he and his wife Naema had prepared for the marriage of his son, Akram [Hosam Salem/Al Jazeera]
“According to the traditions followed in Gaza, I, my wife and my family left our house in Beit Hanoun [in the northern Gaza Strip], and headed to the bride’s house, to complete the wedding ceremony and “bring the bride” to the marital home,” Mohammed explained to Al Jazeera, speaking on behalf of Akram, who was too shaken by the tragedy to speak.
On the way to the bride’s family, the car the groom’s mother, Naema, was travelling in was hit in an Israeli air attack, killing her instantly and wounding five family members, including children.
“It was a horrific scene. I didn’t know what happened. A missile hit my wife as she got out of the car, and she was cut to pieces.” Mohammed said.
“The atmosphere of joy turned into a funeral in moments,” he added. “What is our fault? What is the fault of my son, the groom, who will live with a painful memory that will chase him throughout his life.”
Having lost his wife, and the mother of his children, Mohammed now worries about his son’s mental condition, and that of his new daughter-in-law, who has, for now, stayed in her family’s home.
“Who has the desire to be happy or get married after all this?”
Postponements and cancellations
The majority of Palestinians in Gaza planning their weddings were lucky enough to avoid any physical losses during the latest outbreak of conflict.
However, as is often the case in Gaza, the fighting has affected long-planned events, and ultimately stopped people from being able to live their lives normally.
Maysa Maliha and Ahmed Zaqout had planned to have their wedding on August 7, during the busy summer wedding season in Gaza.
The fighting meant a postponement, but only a short one, and the couple moved the date to August 12, a few days after the conflict ended.
While the rest of Gaza was picking itself up, Maysa and Ahmed rushed to resume their lives, and make new arrangements after they had quickly cancelled their plans following the start of the Israeli attack.
Ahmed Zaqout and his bride Maysa Maliha in a photo shoot held on their wedding day, which took place days after the fighting ended [Hosam Salem/Al Jazeera]
“This is the worst thing about living in Gaza. Planning is non-existent, you cannot plan your life your way.” Maysa told Al Jazeera. “There are always surprises and developments in the political and security situations that disrupt your personal life plans.”
The couple decided to hold their wedding party, but scaled the festivities down.
“We dreamt of a big party and doing whatever we wanted,” Maysa said. “But we decided to make do with a quick silent party out of fear that things might escalate again.”
“What happened in those three days made me decide that I will have my wedding day and be happy even if my heart is sad,” the bride said. “There is a very small space for happiness in Gaza and you never know what might happen to you.”