A ‘Judgement Day’ marketplace and danger at the seaside in Gaza

After days unable to communicate with the world outside Gaza, an Islamic Relief worker* resumes his account of the struggles facing ordinary Palestinian families. This time, he describes venturing to the market and the seaside in the desperate search for news.

As I write, it has been around 8 days without any means of communication in Gaza. Not only has the whole world ignored our small enclave, but everyone has also been cut off inside Gaza. It is not just we can’t chat or can’t make phone calls. It affects everything.

We have no way to communicate with essential services such as medical services and ambulances, banks, and food assistance systems – and we receive no news.

In the age of communication and global aspirations to provide everyone in the world with access to the internet, Gaza is treated like an alien part of the world that does not deserve life.

Desperate for news of loved ones

I can’t imagine how my sisters living abroad feel during this latest blackout, they must be extremely worried about us. We have also been cut off from my sisters in Gaza and my wife’s family. My wife used to call her parents at night but now the night brings more worries. She wants to go to check on them, but they are sheltering about 30 km away, and the road to reach them is very dangerous.

She says she could take a taxi, but I point out that there are no taxis – they do not have fuel. The only transport here now are vans owned by people who still have some precious fuel. Some people have converted their smaller cars to run on gas once used for cooking, but that too is barely available. Reaching the south involves standing in a van crammed with goods and people, as it makes the perilous 1 to 1.5 hour drive.

‘Judgement Day’ scenes at the local market

A couple of days ago, I headed to the market to try to find someone with news of any of our loved ones and friends. As I approached from higher ground, all I could see was the enormous crowd at the market. The horizon was filled with a black carpet of heads moving as one mass. Everybody was trying to find something – maybe a can of beef or fava beans – so their family could eat. Canned food makes up our whole diet, these days.

A passer-by described the scene as, “like Judgment Day”. I could see why they felt that way.

Now, everyone in Gaza lives the same way. There are no rich and poor people. We all dress the same, there are only 1 or 2 options of clothing in the shops. We all eat the same food and drink the same, unhealthy water. We all could die any moment. We all are all afraid. This war makes no distinction between us – whether we are innocent, a civilian, a medic, a schoolteacher, a relief worker, everyone is subjected to the same treatment.

Danger at the seaside

In the afternoon, my brother told me that I could find network coverage if I went to the seashore. He said cell phones can receive signal from other networks if there are no physical barriers between the mobile and the signal tower. I told my wife, “How about a visit to the seaside?” She replied, “Seriously, we have not seen the sea in the last 100 days. Is it safe there? Wouldn’t there be bombing from the boats at sea?”.

When I explained that I want to try to call my sisters and her family, she was eager to go despite the danger. As we arrived at the cliff by the sea, I could see hundreds of people making calls. Some holding their phones high above their heads to try to receive signal. Everyone was desperate to communicate with their loved ones. I saw a friend, who told me to try to use an eSIM to try to connect to the Internet. Luckily, Islamic Relief had given me one to keep in touch about work and check on my welfare – and there, by the sea, it worked! Alhamdulillah.

Longing for connection

I found tons of messages and notifications waiting to be read. The connection was poor but at least I could send messages to our family and friends that we are okay. I also found messages from Islamic Relief colleagues, checking on how I was. It made me very happy knowing people are thinking about us and making effort to stop this war.

I felt all the gratitude in the world for everyone who is making the tiniest effort to help the people of Gaza.

We had to leave before the sun set over the sea. It made me sad, as we always loved the fabulous colours of sunset over the Mediterranean Sea. But it was dangerous to linger, and although the kids couldn’t play in the sand they enjoyed the fresh air, at least.

As I write these words I am back at my parents’ home, where there is still no internet. As soon as I can get coverage again, I will send this account to my Islamic Relief colleagues to share with you all. I hope the internet is restored soon, and more than that, I hope Palestinians can soon return to our lives and homes.

Please help Islamic Relief support people in desperate need in Gaza: Donate to our Palestine Emergency Appeal now.

*This blog is anonymised to protect the safety and security of our colleague and others mentioned. Read the other blogs in this series here.

Editor’s note: This blog was submitted amid a fast-changing and deepening crisis. The information was correct as of Thursday 25 January 2024.

new director

Director of Network and Resource Development

Adnan joined Islamic Relief in 2004 as a regional fundraiser in the UK. He worked in multiple roles over 10 years at Islamic Relief UK, including setting up the first digital team and leading the growth of digital fundraising and engagement. Adnan also led numerous fundraising and marketing campaigns, which played a significant part in the growth of Islamic Relief UK.

Having moved to Islamic Relief Worldwide in 2014, Adnan has held different roles that have helped grow Islamic Relief’s global digital footprint into new geographic territories, supporting Islamic Relief members with their digital and marketing growth as well as developing new products and initiatives for the Islamic Relief family.

Adnan graduated in Industrial Design and Technology from Loughborough University. He has since completed an Advanced Diploma in Business Administration from Durham University and a Diploma in Digital Marketing from the Institute of Data and Marketing.

Nadeem Azhar

General Counsel

Nadeem joined Islamic Relief Worldwide in September 2022. He has worked in the charitable sector for over a decade.

He studied Modern History and Politics at Manchester University, and at the University of Law in London before qualifying as a solicitor in 2011.

Nadeem is an experienced corporate, commercial and governance lawyer, having worked with various faith-based and grant making charities as well those in health and education settings. He was a partner at a law firm in London before moving in-house where he focused on setting up and restructuring charities and social enterprises.

Most recently, Nadeem was Lead Counsel at Mind, a leading mental health charity, where he co-authored a new federation agreement, revamped legal processes, and played a major role in developing its strategic and fundraising partnerships.

Nadeem has been a charity trustee for the Seafarers Charity, as well as many grant-making bodies and theatre companies.

Adnan Hafiz

Director of Network and Resource Development

Adnan joined Islamic Relief in 2004 as a regional fundraiser in the UK. He worked in multiple roles over 10 years at Islamic Relief UK, including setting up the first digital team and leading the growth of digital fundraising and engagement. Adnan also led numerous fundraising and marketing campaigns, which played a significant part in the growth of Islamic Relief UK.

Having moved to Islamic Relief Worldwide in 2014, Adnan has held different roles that have helped grow Islamic Relief’s global digital footprint into new geographic territories, supporting Islamic Relief members with their digital and marketing growth as well as developing new products and initiatives for the Islamic Relief family.

Adnan graduated in Industrial Design and Technology from Loughborough University. He has since completed an Advanced Diploma in Business Administration from Durham University and a Diploma in Digital Marketing from the Institute of Data and Marketing.

Board of Directors
Javed Akhtar

Director of Finance

Javed Akhtar has more than a decade of experience at Islamic Relief, having worked in a similar role between 2003-2014. In that role he strove to implement wide-ranging financial and accounting processes which aided in the transparent nature in which Islamic Relief now operates.

Javed also has diverse experience across the private sector, having worked at American chemicals and pharmaceutical giant DuPont, shipping firm FedEX and technology consultancy company Accenture. In all his roles, he prioritises using the latest technologies to improve monitoring and reporting at every level. Javed’s commitment to embracing digital end-to-end technology, enhancing accountability to our stakeholders and promoting financial transparency is ensuring that we remain at the forefront of financial developments in the sector.

By training, Javed is a chartered accountant with a Master’s degree in NGO Management with Charity Accounting and Financial Management from Cass Business School.
Board of Directors
Affan Cheema  

Director of International Programmes

Affan Cheema is an experienced leader who has spent 25 years working in the international aid sector on poverty eradication in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. He has worked in fast onset emergencies, protracted crisis and development environments whilst working for Islamic Relief Worldwide and Care International. He is also a trustee of South West International Development Network (SWIDN).

Through his career Affan has held numerous roles including institutional fundraising, programme and grant management, and programme quality assurance.  Affan’s leadership has helped Islamic Relief Worldwide secure the highly coveted Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS), seen as the sector’s premier benchmark for operational excellence.

Affan completed his BA in Economics and Geography from University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies) and his MSc in Development Administration and Planning from the University of Bristol. He is PRINCE2 qualified, is a keen sportsman and recently co-edited a book entitled -Islam and International Development: Insights for working with Muslim Communities-.
Board of Directors
Dr Hossam Said

Managing Director, Humanitarian Academy for Development (HAD)

For nearly three decades Dr Hossam has provided the strategic vision to manage, lead and develop a range of international humanitarian interventions around the world.

At the start of his career, Dr Hossam served on the Board of Directors of the Egyptian Medical Syndicate, before moving to Islamic Relief Worldwide to manage the core global business activities as International Programmes Director.

During this time the organisation increased its global reach, gaining both domestic and international repute and credibility. Dr Hossam has also served on the Islamic Relief Worldwide Board of Management and Executive Committee for the past 15 years; sharing responsibility for strategic organisational development and the change management process, whilst forging strong relationships with many other charities.

Dr Hossam gained an MBA from Aston Business School in 2004 and graduated as a Medical Doctor from Cairo University in 1981.
Board of Directors
Martin Cottingham  

Director of External Relations and Advocacy

Martin Cottingham joined Islamic Relief in 2012 as IRUK Media Relations Manager, and was appointed Head of Communications in 2015 before taking up his current position as Director of External Relations and Advocacy for Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Martin has helped Islamic Relief to increase its mainstream media profile and expand its campaigning work, producing hard-hitting advocacy reports on floods in Pakistan (2011) famine in Somalia (2012) disaster risk reduction (2013) and aid to Afghanistan (2014). He has over 20 years’ experience working in media, communications and marketing roles for international development and environmental charities.

Martin graduated from the University of London with a degree in English and Drama (1982-85) then trained as a journalist with a postgraduate diploma at City University (1986-87). He has previously worked for Christian Aid as Editor of Christian Aid News and Media Relations Manager (1988-97) for Oxfam as Regional Campaigns Manager (1997-2000) and at the Soil Association as Marketing Director (2001-2006), as well as working for a wide range of organisations as a freelance writer, researcher and communications consultant.

Tufail Hussain

Director of Islamic Relief UK

Tufail Hussain has 17 years’ experience in the humanitarian and development sector, leading on marketing and fundraising campaigns for several organisations before joining Islamic Relief UK in 2016 as Deputy Director. Tufail was appointed Director of Islamic Relief UK in 2019 and in 2021 provided valuable leadership as interim CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Tufail is driven by a passion for empowering disadvantaged youth and mentors a number of young people. He also works to strengthen engagement between British Muslims and wider society. Under his leadership, Islamic Relief UK has significantly increased its income and developed successful partnerships with communities across the country. He has travelled around the world to raise awareness of major emergencies such as the Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan crises and the floods in Pakistan and Sudan.

A father to 5 daughters and a son, Tufail is also a sports enthusiast and passionate Liverpool FC supporter. Tufail has run the London Marathon twice, raising over £35,000 for humanitarian causes.

Before joining Islamic Relief he was CEO of Orphans in Need, where he oversaw a new strategy that increased income from £2 million to £9 million in 3 years and opened up new UK and international offices. Tufail is also a trustee of the Muslim Charities Forum and a Director of TIC International (Islamic Relief Worldwide’s clothes recycling and trading arm).
Waseem Ahmad

Chief Executive Officer

Waseem Ahmad joined the Islamic Relief family over 24 years ago, serving as Programme Officer in the Balochistan province of south-western Pakistan before becoming Head of Programmes in Pakistan. Waseem then moved to Oxfam and Tearfund before returning to Islamic Relief to establish our mission in Malawi. Later serving as Head of Programme Funding and Partnerships, Waseem led the response to major crises across the globe, including the East Africa drought, Pakistan earthquake and the Indian Ocean Tsunami.

Waseem then served for nearly 6 years as our Director of International Programmes, during which time the charity secured and retained the coveted Core Humanitarian Standard certification in recognition of the quality of our programming. He was appointed CEO of Islamic Relief in May 2021.

With a special interest in community mobilisation and infrastructure, Waseem received an MSc in Project Planning and Management from the University of Bradford, as well as an MSc in Economics from Arid Agriculture University in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

Waseem has also worked for Lepra Health in Action and is a member of the International Civil Society Centre’s Board of Trustees. The father-of-3 enjoys walking and playing football, and is a keen birdwatcher.