In Gaza we pray for a permanent ceasefire, right now

Amid an unprecedented escalation, an Islamic Relief worker* in Gaza describes the rollercoaster of despair and hope as a temporary truce is announced.

We are now in the 48th day of the Israeli war on Gaza, and the situation is getting worse every day. Yes, they are now talking about a temporary humanitarian pause, but I still hear that more of my friends have been killed, more people have lost precious possessions, more destruction everywhere in Gaza.

I have begun to think there will be no place to return to after this war ends.

Will this war end? My questions never end. We are living in perilous, uncertain times. We have no idea what the future holds for us.

A huge stream of news engulfs us, but among this, any news about a possible ceasefire is the most important to us. Even a small mention or rumour of a ceasefire will see the news spread like wildfire across WhatsApp groups. One of my sisters spends most of her time at home, praying and reading Qur’an – but the smallest snippet of news about a ceasefire gets her out of the house, coming to share the news with us, hopeful that this time, it’ll prove true.

Every time I ask her, “Where did you get that information?”. From WhatsApp, she replies. I’m surprised, because I haven’t received this news – I don’t have an internet connection. Anyway, any time we hear there might be a ceasefire is the happiest moment of our day.

News of a ceasefire always begins in the evening. I think it’s because when USA officials start their day, the news starts coming to us here. I don’t know if the time difference is the correct explanation, but it makes sense to me.

However, the evening also brings fresh fear and misery, as the airstrikes and bombing intensify. In the morning, we wake to learn that scores more Palestinians have been killed, and more destruction inflicted on Gaza.

We feel sad, deflated, and like the news of ceasefire was just a cruel fake.

Hope running sky-high

In the last couple of days, news of a ceasefire has become more frequent. Our hopes for an end to this nightmare are now sky-high.

Here in Gaza we are all so exhausted it defies description. Everyone has tasted the loss of loved ones or belongings. Everyone has their own story of suffering. We want this to stop right now – not in 10 minutes.

Yesterday, we had confirmation that the humanitarian pause will take place. We were happy, feeling we have reached the end of this dark tunnel we have been going through.

Me and my brother can’t go home because our homes are in a place that’s still unsafe, but my sisters started planning to return to their homes in the south, from which they evacuated some weeks ago. One thought to travel on a donkey cart – few people have fuel for cars, these days – 20 km to see her house and her husband. Her children were so happy at the thought of seeing their dad for the first time in around a month. But, talking to my brother-in-law on the phone, he advised her to stay away the first day of the truce, worried that it could still be dangerous. My niece broke down in tears, desperate to go home – she missed him so much.

Myself, I talked to my friends in the south and my wife’s family, and we started planning to meet. I suggested we meet in the middle, but then we realised that without cars or public transport, a meeting wouldn’t be possible. I only have a few litres of petrol left in my car, which I’m saving – I’ll need it to get my family home, when this nightmare is over. Until then, I can’t go anywhere.

I had been telling myself that surely, at least humanitarian assistance will be allowed. We would find some food. I was dreaming of refueling my car or refilling the gas cylinders for my mum – all a mistake, hopes and thoughts that turned to mist, gone by sunrise.

A temporary pause is not enough to end our suffering

I’m painfully aware that this truce is only a temporary pause, not a ceasefire: Israel insists it will escalate its operation afterwards. I heard they may expand their assault to reach the south, where 2 million Gazans are trapped, many far from home.

This is not the end of this war, our suffering continues.

Tonight alone, there have been about 10 airstrikes in the area where my family and I are staying. In addition, there is still artillery shelling from land and sea. I cannot go check if my house and all my belongings are still there, I’ve no way to know if they have been destroyed. I can’t meet my friends who are still in Gaza City.

This pause does not mean things are over. Even if we returned to our homes, the work before us is vast. I heard tanks destroyed or damaged every street in the city, I have seen a report saying 60% of all houses in Gaza have been totally or partially destroyed.

My dear readers, we have lived in a besieged city for around 17 years, but we love every corner of it. We have memories in all the places, we celebrated every event, we tried all the new restaurants, we enjoyed every grain of sand on the beaches, we collected the olives, and we created our hopes and dreams in this city.

We really hope this pause will be extended, and will lead to a lasting ceasefire. We pray to return to our city. We dream of rebuilding shattered lives, and we want to assist the many others in desperate need of Islamic Relief’s help. As a member of Islamic Relief’s incredible family of supporters, I ask you to pray for us, and to join us in calling for a ceasefire now.

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

<Read the previous blog in this series.

*This blog is anonymised to protect the safety and security of our colleague.

Editor’s note: This blog was submitted amid a fast-changing and deepening crisis on the ground. This information was correct as of the afternoon of Thursday 23 November.

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.