A new year begins, but in Gaza, the horror does not end

An Islamic Relief aid worker* in Gaza who began 2023 as a happy Master’s graduate contemplates the loved ones, the home, and the hope he has lost in just 3 excruciating months.

As I write, it is the last day of 2023. A year I started by completing my Masters degree in sustainable development. In the middle of the year, me and my family vacationed in Istanbul, Turkiye, and had one of our greatest times together. I felt this year was one of the best in my life.

Until October, when our lives lurched into the unknown.

In the last 3 months I have grown older, I have sunk into depression, I have lived in fear, I have witnessed horrors. In the last 3 months, I have lost people I loved, I have lost my home, I lost my beloved city, the place of many fond memories. In the last 3 months, our future has looked darker than ever. In the last 3 months, I have lost hope in the international community, in human rights, and in justice in the world.

And still, this harrowing experience is not over.

A new year and our wedding anniversary

A new year starts tomorrow, which will also be my wedding anniversary. I met my wife after we graduated from college: we worked together for a short time before falling in love. We married and started our small family. We married on 1.1.2011 – a wedding date with lots of 1s.

We used to celebrate our anniversary every year. We didn’t go out on dates, preferring instead to take the kids to our favorite restaurant: a place called ‘Mazaj’, which in English means ‘mood’. But this year, the restaurant may no longer be standing. This year, we will have no celebrations. This year, I do not even have warm clothes – we left so much when we evacuated our home – so I have had to buy a few secondhand clothes to try to keep warm.

Me and my wife used to visit our families on the anniversary of our wedding. We would take a cake and spend time with them, laughing and sharing good times. This year, we are living at my parents’ house but there are no cakes – the bakeries closed in the early days of this war, and people are struggling to even find bread. This year, my wife’s parents are in another city, and reaching them requires a dangerous, difficult journey – so we will miss them this anniversary.

This year, our families are torn apart, like so many others in Gaza, mourning losses, and struggling to survive.

Our annual New Year’s beach ritual obliterated

Usually, the morning of the 1 Jan is a holiday in Gaza. Our annual ritual was to go for an early morning drive with the kids, to get breakfast. We’d head north, where the beach was quiet, less crowded, and sit in the car eating Manakish Zaater (thyme bread with olive oil) or falafel with a cup of tea.

This year, the tanks that invaded Gaza have erased the whole beach. The streets are just rubble. All the places in that area are totally destroyed. Yet, my memories stand solid, indestructible. I will never forget.

Tomorrow, I will have been married to my beloved wife for 12 years. We are an average Palestinian family from Gaza. We hope for a bright future for our kids. We hope for a place for them to thrive, to enjoy their childhood, to play, to travel, to live, to drink clean water, and to grow normally. In these times, every simple wish is becoming an impossible feat. This year, our kids are deprived of education and normality. Usually, we would be working with them to prepare for their winter exams – but it is more time and effort than we can find during this crisis, but we still miss it. We want to get back to our lives. We want this to stop.

We start 2024 as displaced people

So tomorrow my wife and I start a new chapter in our life as displaced people. Displaced like our parents, who in 1948 fled their village during the Palestinian Nakba, becoming refugees in the process. ‘Displaced’ and ‘refugee’ are terms describing suffering and pain, and Palestinians can be called both at the same time.

Sorry, my dear wife, I cannot send you flowers this year. I cannot gift you your favorite perfume or a new bag. I am a displaced Palestinian with plenty of reasons for not doing so. This year’s anniversary will be like no other, but I promise you we will create new memories and have more time together. Ahead we have lots of work to rebuild our house, to educate our children, and to continue our life together.

My personal memories and life events are not separate from the whole Palestinian society suffering in Gaza. We have endured too much for dozens of years, not only during these last 3 months. Yet the world is strangely selective, using ethnicity and color to decide what is right and what is wrong.

Exhausted Palestinians want only an end to this suffering

Here in Gaza people are now without homes, wandering the streets looking for food and water. I see them, the people that the international community treats as invisible. I know them, the people the world regards as voiceless. I am with them, the Palestinian people, who all share an overwhelming exhaustion, who all just want an end to this suffering.

We know that we cannot go back to a life full of roses – that version of the past never existed, after all. But we are desperate to swap the current reality for anything, even the start of new suffering as survivors rebuild a destroyed city, restart basic services, try to remember where the streets were, look for demolished classrooms, and reopen much-needed facilities.

In the first couple of months since the escalation began, people would say they were okay – but not anymore. In Gaza today, “We are tired, exhausted,” is the trending phrase. We have all had enough. We just want an end to this. Just stop the killing, and we can find our way out of this nightmare.

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 31 December 2023.

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.