My family has nowhere else to flee – should we stay to face Israel’s tanks?

As tanks reach southern Gaza, an Islamic Relief worker* faces the heartbreaking dilemma of whether his family, who have nowhere left to go, should flee yet again – or stay and pray to be spared.

Since I last wrote to you, my family and I have spent a terrifying couple of nights. We could hear gunshots and airstrikes all around. I told you about a friend who was staying with her family in an area near us. She had to evacuate as tanks arrived just behind their home. I also saw other people from that area walking with their belongings towards the middle of the city.

I was very worried about our safety, as my family lives on the edge of the city too. My nerves couldn’t stand the stress. I just lay down in silence. I couldn’t think what would be the best thing to do. Should we leave, or stay? Each option seemed just as challenging as the other.

At my parents’ home, we’ve managed to get solar panels to generate electricity. We can watch the news and connect to the internet when it’s available. We’ve managed to find a system for refilling our water tanks once or twice a week, though it’s costly and not very good. Things are – at the most basic level – working for us. We are among the lucky ones who have been able to adapt – most people don’t even have this. Leaving means taking a step into the unknown. On the other hand, staying would mean putting my family in danger from shelling.

We don’t have anywhere else to go

Nowhere in Gaza has space now. Every residential unit is hosting 1-3 families. People are living in the streets. My friend told me people are even renting a storage unit with no water or electricity for around $1,000 (approx. £790) a month. I can’t put my family into a situation where I have to take my kids to a neighbour’s house to use the toilet or go begging for food and water.

I thought I would rather stay in the danger and accept whatever comes from Allah. Alhamdulillah, my story might have reached its end. I had a chance to raise my voice through this series of blogs, so maybe you will remember a Palestinian father who died trying to provide a good life for his family.

I am desperate and exhausted. At the start of the escalation, we lived a little further away from the danger. Now, the second round is happening in our backyard. Since the tanks took over the southern area, no food supplies have come our way. Most of the agricultural land is now empty as the Israeli army ordered people to evacuate.

My friend in Khan Younis told me: “People are just wandering in the streets. There is nowhere for them to stay. “Luckily, I moved to my parents’ home, but, even still, I feel like a stranger here. It’s not like my home”. I totally agreed, saying to him that I’d prefer to go to my own house, even knowing it’s been seriously damaged and uninhabitable, rather than remaining displaced.

But we are not able to do so. The owners of the gunpowder, airplanes and tanks have made the decision for us. I really miss my old life. Everyone does. I speak to my friends and colleagues in Islamic Relief and they are all telling me the same thing. We all want to go and see our streets, our buildings, the benches at the seashore, order grilled corn, spend time with friends, and most of all rest in our houses.
My children’s unmeetable needs and unanswerable questions

We are tired of every single thing becoming increasingly difficult. My mum and sisters have to walk to our neighbour’s carrying the dough they’ve prepared to bake bread for us. My brother needs to climb the stairs 10 times to make sure the water tanks are filled. It takes all my wife’s composure to handle my children’s requests for food.

Yes, my kids feel hungry at nighttime. But we do not have enough bread, or enough anything, to make food for them. We barely have enough resources to meet the needs of everyone in the house. Even if we could find everything we needed, it would cost a fortune. It is heartbreaking to not be able to meet my family’s needs. They’re not asking for anything lavish, only food.

On top of that, the kids keep asking me about the sounds of bombing we hear all night long. “Is that a tank bomb? Is it a rocket? Is it an airstrike?” I do not know what difference it makes; they’re just the sounds of people being killed. At one point it felt like there was a troop of soldiers shooting right outside our windows. It felt like hundreds of tanks were firing as our house shook with every explosion. I was trying to sleep but I kept waking up every few minutes because of the noise.

Hunger is a constant companion

We are living an unspeakable situation. We are almost dead. We can’t find food. It is not like we are asking for Italian restaurants or fast food chains – we just want bread, tomatoes, cucumber, some aubergine… we can’t find them. We’ve started making 1-ingredient meals now. Mashed potatoes, grilled aubergine, just tomatoes with chicken stock, or just bread with tea. Maybe we are going to die from hunger now.

I don’t know why Israel thinks depriving families of food or destroying our homes helps its fight with its enemy. I do not know anything. We are living in total uncertainty. Just feel happy that we’ve lived another day and then moving onto the next until there is no more of this story. Thank you, my dear readers, for everything: by reading this you are keeping my memory alive.

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 6 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.