Emily Hand, a young girl who was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists during the October 7 massacre and brought to Gaza, then initially falsely reported as having been killed, turned 9 years old on Friday while in captivity in Gaza.
The young girl, who possesses Irish and Israeli citizenship, was abducted from a sleepover at her friend’s house in Kibbutz Be’eri, along with her friend’s mother, Raya Rotem.
Initial reports from the IDF seemed to confirm the worst – she was reported as one of the dead. However, her father said at the time that he was comforted by a sense of relief that she was not suffering among the over 240 hostages taken to Gaza by Hamas. Weeks later, he learned that this was, in fact, her fate, as her body had not been found and an eyewitness reported seeing her being taken away in a Hamas vehicle.
“Unofficial reports came in that she was found dead in the kibbutz,” said Emily’s father, Tom Hand, who is now living in a hotel on the Dead Sea with others evacuated from Be’eri. “I was relieved. I was relieved that she was dead and it was all over, it would have been pretty quick.”
Tom Hand, a 64-year-old Irish immigrant who came to Be’eri in 1992 as a 32-year-old volunteer, worked as a printer in the kibbutz, where he met Emily’s mother Liat.
Liat died when Emily was just two-and-a-half years old, but the family had remained in the kibbutz where Hand’s first wife Narkis also lived. She was among the about 100 murdered residents on October 7 – 10% of the community’s population.
More than 100 people were killed in Kibbutz Be’eri over more than 24 hours. Many were shot with their families or found dead with their hands bound. Rescue workers said some were burned alive. He had been at home and the gunmen never reached his house.
“You try to imagine the, the best, you know. You hope that it was quick,” Hand said. “Crazy thought, for a parent to say but, yeah, it was a relief thinking that she wasn’t in Gaza.”
“So now I know she is in Gaza and she’s alive. She’s going to be nine in the tunnels,” he said. “She won’t even know it’s her birthday. She’ll have no idea of night or day or time.”
“There’ll be no birthday party, no birthday cake, no friends around. But you know, yeah. Now we hope, now we pray.”
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Since the October 7 attack, Israel has attacked the Gaza Strip in a campaign that Hamas says has killed more than 11,000 people and launched a ground operation to destroy Hamas. The government and military have vowed to bring as many hostages back as possible.
Now that Hand has learned that Emily was alive, he said he had been forced into a complete mental shift to think: “OK, we’re going to get her back, we’re going to get her back. We’re going to get them all back.”
He said Emily was a fan of the American singer Beyonce and he focused on staying strong enough to bring her home and thinking of ways to bring her enjoyment.
“I’ll make sure I’ll get her to the next Beyonce concert. Bring her to Disney World, I’ll spend all my money, every penny I’ve got to give her fun to make up for everything that she’s lost and everything she’s going through,” he said, fighting tears. “I’m going to give her the world.”
Rumors and reports of Israel and Hamas closing in on a deal to free some of the hostages in exchange for the release of some female and teenage Palestinians held in Israeli prisons have intensified this week, though the hostages’ families are still left waiting for their miracle.
“We’re all waiting for her,” he said. “We know we’re going to get you back. Be strong every day and wait, we’re coming to get you. We’re coming to get you home. We’re going to bring you home.”
Reuters contributed to this report.