By Alice Cuddy
BBC News, Jerusalem
The call to Mahmoud Shaheen came at dawn.
It was Thursday 19 October at about 06:30, and Israel had been bombing Gaza for 12 days straight.
He’d been in his third-floor, three-bedroom flat in al-Zahra, a middle-class area in the north of the Gaza Strip. Until now, it had been largely untouched by air strikes.
He’d heard a rising clamour outside. People were screaming. “You need to escape,” somebody in the street shouted, “because they will bomb the towers”.
As he left his building and crossed the road, looking for a safe place, his phone lit up.
It was a call from a private number.
“I’m speaking with you from Israeli intelligence,” a man said down the line, according to Mahmoud.
That call would last more than an hour – and it would be the most terrifying call of his life.
‘We will bomb three towers’
The voice addressed Mahmoud by his full name and spoke in flawless Arabic.
“He told me he wanted to bomb three towers… and ordered me to evacuate the surrounding area.”
Mahmoud’s tower was not directly under threat – but he was suddenly responsible for evacuating hundreds of people. “I had the lives of people in my hands,” he says.
He gathered his thoughts and told the man, who identified himself as Abu Khaled, not to hang up the phone.
As a 40-year-old dentist, Mahmoud says he has no idea why he was chosen for this task. But that day, he did everything he could to keep his community safe.
Directed by the voices of strangers, who always seemed to know how to reach him even when his battery ran out, he pleaded for the bombing to stop and screamed until his throat hurt for people to run away.
He led a mass evacuation of his neighbours – and then watched his neighbourhood explode in front of his eyes.
Suggested reading for living in the image of the Loving and the Most Merciful God by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times:
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