Gaza man separated from fiancee by war tries to contact her for Valentine’s Day

By Thomson Reuters Feb 14, 2024 | 9:19 AM

By Saleh Salem

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (Reuters) – Youssef Shalha had been looking forward to buying his fiancee Bisan Badah flowers or a teddy bear on Valentine’s Day but, separated from her by the war in Gaza, the only romantic gesture he can still send her is a loving voice message.

Four months of Israel’s air and land assault on Gaza has upended even the smallest aspects of life in the tiny Palestinian enclave, making nearly all its inhabitants homeless and unable to plan their futures.

“We have nothing beautiful left. After the war where will we go?” said Shalha, who planned to marry Badah, whose birthday also falls on Valentine’s Day, in April.

The couple had been planning visits to their families during the coming Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, traditionally a period of celebration.

“There’s no one left to visit. All my relatives were targeted. Everything was hit by airstrikes. Everything was destroyed,” he said.

Now, living in a tent in Rafah, in the southernmost part of the Strip, after fleeing first his home in Beit Lahiya and then a shelter in Khan Younis as the Israeli offensive advanced, it is hard for him to arrange to see his fiancee, in a tent with her own family elsewhere in the city.

They exchange voice messages when they can, but communications are very difficult in Rafah and Shalha has been unable to reach Badah for two days.

“I’m waiting to be able to connect with her to give her this modest gift,” he said, showing a shawl he had bought for Badah in place of the more elaborate presents he had wanted to give her before the conflict wrecked their plans.

Israel’s war in Gaza was triggered by the Oct. 7 attack when Hamas fighters broke through border fences into southern Israel to kill around 1,200 people and take back 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

The Israeli assault on Gaza has now killed more than 28,000 people according to health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza, with most of the enclave lying in rubble.

“Valentine’s Day is known for red roses and red hearts. But now red is the colour of blood. Everything you see is red: death and destruction… it makes our skin crawl,” Shalha said.

(Reporting by Saleh Salem, writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by Alex Richardson)