Celebrating Hayat

Last Thursday’s dawn, my daughter arrived – a triumph over fear and anticipation. We named her Hayat (“Life”) because her birth is a victory of life amid the death and devastation we are experiencing daily in Gaza.

With her first touch, my mind traveled through the 70 days of bombing, displacement, hunger and thirst. Life, once ordinary, underwent a seismic shift after October 7.

Ibrahim documenting food distributions.

As my wife Aseel entered her eighth month of pregnancy, we began preparing for our arrival, setting up her room, consulting doctors, discussing names, and readying our one-and-a half-year-old daughter, Rose, for her role as a big sister.

These preparations were all eclipsed by the first Israeli shell to fall, followed by a storm of missiles that forced us to flee our home, leaving cherished memories and dreams behind to an uncertain fate.

Our house in northwest Gaza City was destroyed, so we moved to our relatives’ home in the east of the city. But even that wasn’t safe and we were forced to move from one place to another in different regions of Gaza, all in futile pursuit of safety.

Our most horrible and scary night was when we went to stay in a friend’s house near Al Shifa Hospital complex. We thought seeking refuge near Gaza’s main hospital would be safe, but we found ourselves facing a terrible night filled with shrapnel, stones, and shattered glass, alongside 15 other souls.

I held little Rose close and sat next to my wife as we all wondered if these moments would be the last of our lives. At dawn, we embarked once again on the perilous trek back to our relatives’ home in the eastern area.

Amidst all of these fears, my deepest concern centered on the imminent birth of our baby and the health of my wife, who was in her ninth month. Our fears only got worse as we witnessed the targeting of hospitals where we might have gone for the birth, including Al Shifa, Al Nasr Hospital for Children and Al Rantisi.

Sleep was impossible as various scenarios unfolded in my mind: How would my wife give birth? What if a cesarean section was necessary? How would our newborn fair in these terrible circumstances?

After 52 days, we decided to head south as instructed by the Israeli army. That morning, alongside my heavily pregnant wife, we set forth on foot, carrying only our IDs and one change of clothing for Rose. The journey towards the so-called “safe passage” unfolded with Israeli soldiers and tanks as ominous witnesses.

Raising white flags and hands, we passed through the Israeli checkpoint, a moment of collective breath-holding and eventual relief.

Aseel’s endurance was amazing, but after having walked for over 20 kilometers, we finally had to get a donkey cart for the rest of the way to Deir Al Balah, where we were able to stay with relatives. Our days mirrored the experience of the displaced families around us – early morning searches for flour, canned foods, baby formula, and other necessities.

My thoughts moved from worries over Aseel’s delayed pregnancy, securing essentials for the baby, and simply managing the obligations of daily life in a state of perpetual upheaval. I struggled to comprehend what was happening. How could I, a young man starting his family, bear witness to such chaos? Our dreams, ambitions and hard work have drowned in the madness around us.

I often thought of the doctor’s advice to include in Aseel’s diet sweet things like cookies, chocolate, and dates. As the war continued, these little goodies became impossible luxuries, when store shelves were emptied of necessities like flour and other basic foods.

Amidst these hardships, however, my daughter’s birth has brought us hope, and a little light in the darkness. Her arrival pushed against our constant fear of death, proving that hope can persist no matter what. Hayat’s birth encourages us to say:

“Welcome Life! Welcome baby Hayat.”

Hayat swaddled with eyes closed.
Ibrahim Zaanoun’s daughter Hayat


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