A long-serving SNP activist who stood for election in the north-east last week says she’s been worried sick as her brother and young relatives endure a war zone in Gaza.
Nadia El-Nakla, who is married to Scottish Government justice secretary Humza Yousaf, spoke of her distress while deadly violence worsened in the blockaded territory.
The 37-year-old lives in Broughty Ferry and has been kept in constant contact through WhatsApp messages about her family.
“For us as a family here it’s sickening,” she says. “Literally sick with worry to the point where you can’t eat.
“You almost don’t want to hear from your family because you don’t want to hear how bad it is for them.
“As siblings you feel like you should have the same experience, so for me, my brother, my niece and my nephews, it breaks my heart that I’m here safe and they’re in a war zone. There is nowhere for them to go. There is no safe haven in Gaza.”
Rockets were fired from Gaza while Israeli forces bombarded the territory with air strikes in the most serious fighting since the 50-day war in 2014, according to international reports on Wednesday.
The death toll in Gaza rose to 35 Palestinians, including 12 children and three women, by Wednesday morning according to the health ministry there, with at least 233 people injured.
Five Israelis, including three women and a child, were killed by rocket fire on Tuesday and early on Wednesday, and dozens of other people were injured.
The UN’s Middle East peace envoy, Tor Wennesland, said the sides were “escalating towards a full-scale war”.
“They used to tell the kids people were having a party and there were fireworks. But now it’s just really bad.”
– Nadia El-Nakla
Ms El-Nakla, whose dad is Palestinian, visited Gaza regularly every summer when she was growing up but has been unable to go for the past 16 years.
“We’d stay there six weeks at a time, sometimes twice a year, so it’s very much like my home,” she said.
“It’s home to my brother, my niece and my nephews, my grandmother who’s very frail now.”
Her brother Mohammed, a doctor, has been giving regular updates. He is married to wife Duas and has two boys, Amjid and Majid, and a girl, Layla. Ms El-Nakla’s 85-year-old gran, Hasna, is also in Gaza.
‘Shouldn’t be normal for anyone’
Ms El-Nakla, senior case worker for Dundee City East MSP Shona Robison, said her brother had been giving her updates.
“He’s messaging me trying to make me feel better, saying it’s normal, ‘I’m used to it, I’m not scared of dying’,” she said.
“For his sister to hear that, it’s difficult. I was walking in Broughty Ferry and I can’t even imagine bombs dropping on us, let alone that being the ‘norm’. It shouldn’t be normal for anyone.
“They used to tell the kids people were having a party and there were fireworks. But now it’s just really bad. My cousin told me ‘how do I comfort my child when I’m terrified myself. I’ve been in Gaza when bombs are dropping and it is absolutely terrifying.”
Her husband, a senior figure in Nicola Sturgeon’s government, earlier raised the family’s plight in a series of posts on social media, drawing attention to the international crisis.
Wife has been in floods of tears all evening. Her brother lives in Gaza with his wife & three young children. He tells us it's raining rockets. As a parent he feels helpless, they cannot leave as they are under blockade. All we can do is pray & hope they are alive in the morning.
— Humza Yousaf (@HumzaYousaf) May 11, 2021
He wrote: “Wife has been in floods of tears all evening. Her brother lives in Gaza with his wife and three young children.
“He tells us it’s raining rockets. As a parent he feels helpless, they cannot leave as they are under blockade. All we can do is pray and hope they are alive in the morning.”
On Wednesday morning, Mr Yousaf thanked people for their “kind messages” about his brother-in-law.
Thank you to everyone for their kind msgs about my brother-in-law in Gaza. I have passed your kindness, and prayers to my wife and her brother who are taking great comfort in them.
I hope the international community intervenes & actually tackles the root of this conflict.
— Humza Yousaf (@HumzaYousaf) May 12, 2021
In a post on social media, he added: “I have passed your kindness, and prayers to my wife and her brother who are taking great comfort in them. I hope the international community intervenes and actually tackles the root of this conflict.”
Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged leaders in Israel and Palestine to “step back from the brink”.
Mr Johnson said: “The UK is deeply concerned by the growing violence and civilian casualties and we want to see an urgent de-escalation of tensions.”
The latest upsurge in violence has been triggered by tensions in Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
A focal point was the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a holy site sacred to both Jews and Muslims, while there were also clashes over the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers in the Sheikh Jarrar neighbourhood of east Jerusalem.