The first minister’s mother-in-law was visiting family in Gaza when the conflict began last month. After two failed attempts, she was able to enter Egypt via the Rafah Border Crossing on 3 November.
The Scottish first minister’s mother-in-law has told of her devastation of the Israel-Hamas war and said she has “left her heart in Gaza”.
Elizabeth El-Nakla and her husband Maged were visiting family in Gaza when the conflict erupted on 7 October.
The couple from Dundee – whose daughter Nadia El-Nakla is married to Humza Yousaf – survived neighbouring bombings and were eventually able to make it back home to Scotland after four weeks of a “living nightmare”.
Speaking to Sky News, Ms El-Nakla said the ordeal still feels “very surreal”.
In an interview with Beth Rigby, she said: “I [wake] up in the middle of the night and I hear silence in the dark and then I remember I’m home and that I’m safe. And I feel very grateful for that.
“You really do think every day or every night you will die, and the family that are under your roof as well. And that’s hard to comprehend and hard to get over.”
After two failed attempts, the couple were eventually able to enter Egypt via the Rafah Border Crossing on 3 November.
Ms El-Nakla said that was the moment she knew she was safe, but it was then when exhaustion hit.
“I hadn’t slept for nearly three weeks,” she said. “And you’re just so relieved, but you still don’t believe it, and you’re so exhausted.
“And then we get on the bus and you see all these happy children. We were given a bottle of water and a packet of biscuits.
“And it is such a relief, you can’t imagine, but again your heart is torn. I left my heart in Gaza – I didn’t bring it home with me.”
Nadia, her daughter who is a Dundee councillor, said she was “holding onto hope” but during the “darkest of times” she imagined that she may not see her parents again.
When the conflict began on Saturday 7 October, Nadia messaged her parents and said: “Your window is going to be small, you need to leave. It’s going to become really, really a bad, dangerous situation for everyone in Gaza.”
Ms El-Nakla said she was “horrified” by what she was seeing on the news.
She added: “I couldn’t believe it. And then when I saw people being taken… I’m old as well and to see people being bundled onto like tuk-tuks and motorbikes, to me that’s horrific. You just don’t do things like that.
“And then it dawns on you as well – ‘oh my god, the repercussions will be huge’. And you fear, not just for the people that are being taken, but also you fear for what’s going to happen.”
Ms El-Nakla said the bombing started on the Saturday evening.
During an attempt to flee to safety on 14 October, the couple were driven to the border by a 22-year-old neighbour.
“This is 15 minutes in a fast drive, 22 minutes on Google it tells you it takes. But to me, it could have been 15,000 miles it felt so far away,” she said.
They were told to turn back, and while on the phone to Nadia the line cut out following an explosion. Nadia said she “fell to her knees” and it took around 10 minutes for her to know her parents were still alive.