Bullets or starvation: Families struggle to survive in Gaza under siege

As Israel continues is bombardment of Gaza, an Islamic Relief aid worker* makes contact with a colleague elsewhere in the Gaza Strip. Amid a hunger crisis, the 2 friends discuss the challenges of finding food to eat.

Four months have passed since the start of this conflict, and now we are entering the fifth. The killing and destruction have never stopped. The death toll is beyond comprehension and the city looks like it’s been struck by an earthquake. The leaders of the world are still hesitant to call for a desperately needed ceasefire – a break, just to relieve the suffering of civilians who have nothing to do with this fight. We have been living through perhaps the hardest conditions seen anywhere in the world at this time; without food, water, shelter or clothes. On top of the rarity of these basic things, people also can’t access healthcare, education, or basic services. We can’t move freely. We can’t hope for a better future.

Just yesterday, I was lucky enough to make contact with my colleague who is still in the north of the Gaza Strip. There are people who didn’t or couldn’t evacuate Gaza City, when ordered to, and have remained there all this time. Khaled* is one of them. It has been hard to communicate with him, especially since most communication infrastructure has been damaged. When I am able to reach him, my main concern is checking that he is safe. This time, however, I managed to have a long talk with him.

I asked: “What do you eat? How do you manage to find food?” I was concerned about him and his family after hearing news about starvation in the city. I have seen an interview with someone from the World Food Programme (WFP) who said people in Gaza City and northern Gaza are at the most severe stage of hunger, which means they do not have access to food, do not have the tools to produce food, or do not have the resources to buy food. Khaled told me:

“We can only find rice. We have not had vegetables in months. Flour is becoming very scarce and even if we could find it, the price would be tremendous. One kilo of white flour costs around $13 (£10.00). We started grinding dried corn, which is normally used to feed animals, to make bread. People get killed when they try to go out and meet the assistance trucks arriving in Gaza from the United Nations. I can’t risk that, but I want to feed my family.”

As he described the situation, his despair and exhaustion were clear. He said that a 25kg pack of flour costs around $300 (£238) and the family has to use every speck carefully. Khaled told me that he searched the city with his in laws until they found a flour mill, hoping to buy anything they could. They were lucky to get some flour when many others could not. Khaled explained, “We make saj [a bread similar to Indian naan]. It is easier to make it on wood fire, but it does not keep my kids full. They always want something more to eat.”

‘Lucky days’

I thought about our ‘lucky days’ when we’d managed to find something special to eat – chicken, or a jar of Nutella for the kids in the early days of the bombardment. Khaled said a ‘lucky day’ for him would mean eating 2 meals, instead of just one. Most of the meals his family makes now contain just one ingredient – rice. They eat rice with carrots, rice with a can of sweetcorn, rice with spices or sometimes just plain white rice. He explained that almost everyone in the city is eating rice right now. A rice store had survived the airstrikes and bombing so everyone rushed to buy what they could.

Khaled tells me eggs are like gold. One egg costs more than a dollar and, on top of this, fears that they might not be safe to eat have made families wary of buying. Khaled says he cannot risk his family’s health in a place where there are no medical facilities. At one point, they managed to find a place that sold cheese and rushed to buy as much as they could. The 3 kilos lasted for 10 breakfasts, but the family has been struggling to find any more since.

Khaled may be among the lucky ones inside besieged Gaza City – he can at least still find something to eat, many are not so lucky. Lots of people have come to the place where I’m staying to ask for a loaf of bread. Chatting to them, I discovered they’re displaced from homes all around the Gaza Strip and are now without a place to stay or food to eat. They just knock on doors, asking for assistance and hoping for the best. I helped as much as I could, but my family and I are also getting by on a poor diet. Yes, we can find some different options, but they are not healthy at all. I am not saying I want to be on a keto or low-carb diet, I am talking about nourishing food for growing children. We mostly depend on canned food and limited vegetables. My children have not had any fruit since the conflict began, not even a single grape.

I know in wars people cannot expect to have everything, yet in Palestine we have nothing at all. This land was very fruitful, and everything was grown domestically, but now Israeli tanks sit on all the agricultural land in the Gaza Strip. Most of it has been bulldozed. They are literally starving Palestinians, starving us to death. We either get killed by bullets or by starvation – these 2 bitter choices are our only options.

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 8 February.

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.