Khalid El-Astal was reunited with his children at Dublin Airport. They arrived from Egypt after fleeing Gaza through the Rafah border crossing, after their mother died from Israeli airstrikes.
“It’s difficult, it’s painful, but of course it will give me a strength being with my children now,” said Irish-Palestinian man Khalid El-Astalon the arrival of his two children to Dublin from Gaza on Sunday.
“I was expecting to feel 100 per cent happy. I am happy, of course, but it’s mixed emotions inside me,” he said, as several of his family members, including his wife, had been killed in Israeli air strikes in recent weeks.
Mr El-Astal was in tears after his children arrived through the doors in the arrivals hall, picking them up for a long-awaited hug.
The flight had been delayed by almost six hours due to a technical issue. Mr El-Astal, his family and friends had been waiting at the airport since Sunday morning.
On the first day of war, on October 7th, Mr El-Astal was in Saudi Arabia “working there and trying to get all of them to be with me in Dublin”, he told The Irish Times.
“My children are both Irish citizens but my wife is not. Rafah crossing was closed for everyone, so it was very hard work for us to do with [the Department of] Foreign Affairs and they did their best,” he said.
But on October 22nd, Mr El-Astal’s family home was bombed. The children’s mother, Ashwak, died from the injuries she sustained.
“My wife was injured in the first place. My mom died, and my brother. My wife was in a very bad situation. She was burned, 60 per cent of her body, and even her face. I left [to go to] Dublin to try figure something out, a hospital for her or something like that, but on November 1st she passed away,” he said.
It was “a very hard journey”, he said, adding that he and his extended family then began engaging with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to “start thinking about how we can get the children”.
Ali (4) and Sara (1), were included on an evacuation list to leave Gaza to travel to Egypt on Thursday, but when his children went to the border initially, “they sent them back,” he said.
“After this, there was no connection with anyone in Gaza. I didn’t hear anything from anyone until they were in Egypt and the Irish Embassy in Cairo told me they were in safe hands now.”
Until Sunday, it had been “one whole year” without his family, while he was away working, Mr El-Astal said.
“My little daughter is only one year and three months. She had her first steps in the first days of war. My son’s birthday is on 22nd of this month, and his mum was killed in the first day of this month,” he said.
Mr El-Astal was born in Belfast and spent much of his childhood in the city, where his Gazan father, a professor of physics, worked. His family – including his three brothers, all Irish citizens – moved back to Gaza when he was eight years old. Since his marriage five years ago, Mr El-Astal, who has a master’s degree in theoretical physics, has held aspirations of moving his family to Ireland.
The children arrived in Dublin Airport on Sunday evening with Mr El-Astal’s brother-in-law, Mohammed Jendia, who has an Irish visa. They will return to Naas, Co Kildare, where Mr El-Astal is based.
The children and Mr El-Astal’s brother-in-law arrived to a small gathering of people carrying the Palestinian flag as a show of solidarity inside the Terminal 1 arrivals hall on Sunday.
The Palestinian ambassador, Jilan Wahba Abdalmajid, also came to the airport to welcome them to Ireland.
“Thank you for their effort to bring Palestinian-Irish citizens to Ireland, I know they put a huge effort,” she said of the Irish Government.
“This genocide, this war against Palestinians should stop. I think it’s enough. We need the voices from the world to put pressure on Israel to stop this war,” she said, adding: “I’m here today to welcome them. We will not spare any effort to help them.”
The DFA confirmed that 24 Irish citizens and dependants were able to exit Gaza at the Rafah crossing on Friday. This brings to 50 the number of Irish citizens and dependants assisted to leave Gaza this week.
“Only small numbers of citizens or accompanying dependants who have expressed a wish to leave remain in Gaza,” a spokesperson said.
There were emotional scenes at Dublin Airport on Saturday too where arrivals included Ibrahim Alagha, his wife Hamida and their three children Sami (8), Eileen (4) and Omar (3), who live in Blanchardstown, west Dublin.
Mr Alagha went straight from the airport to join a large rally in support of Palestine in Dublin city on Saturday where he told the crowd: “I saw the starvation, the lack of food, water, energy and medical supplies. I’ve lived it all, I saw it all.”
Mr Alagha thanked the demonstrators, and the staff at the Irish Embassy in Cairo.
Saeed Adli Sadeq (21), who had been studying in Gaza, was also among the contingent and will now be returning to Co Mayo.
“Finally I feel safe now. From what I have seen, I was afraid of getting killed, murdered by an Israeli air strike. After coming to Ireland now I feel safe and able to continue to live my life like a normal person,” he said.
“For 40 days in Gaza we had no electricity, we didn’t have a sufficient amount of food and water and supplies. It was a disaster, a catastrophe. Now I will be able to continue my life.”