'We hope that somehow we will get her back, hug her, fix her'

Family of girl thought killed Oct. 7 grapples with news she may be hostage in Gaza

Tom Hand says he thought his family’s nightmare was over and they have now entered a new one, but with a rekindling of hope; evidence of her abduction from Be’eri remains scant

Irish-Israeli Emily Kornberg Hand, who was abducted by Hamas on October 7, 2023 and released on November 25, 2023. (Courtesy)
Irish-Israeli Emily Kornberg Hand, who was abducted by Hamas on October 7, 2023 and released on November 25, 2023. (Courtesy)

The family of a young girl who was believed killed by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Be’eri but is now thought to be among the hundreds of hostages held by the terror group in Gaza has described the chaos surrounding her fate as both a new nightmare and a rekindling of hope.

They spoke nearly a month after her father drew widespread attention for a heart-wrenching interview in which he drew comfort from the fact that she had died and was not in terrorist captivity.

Emily Hand, an 8-year-old girl from Be’eri, was initially reported killed in the Hamas assault on October 7. But on October 31, her family was told by Israeli authorities that she was likely taken hostage and still alive.

After hearing that she may have in fact been abducted, Emily’s Ireland-born father Thomas Hand told Channel 12 news on Monday that “it was extremely hard to even take in that new information.”

“Going from your daughter is dead to knowing she’s alive but in Gaza was very very hard to take in and digest,” he said, describing Emily as an “innocent 8-year-old child” who loved “singing, dancing, acrobats and piano.”

“Our family nightmare was over, and then we had to go back into the nightmare of knowing that there’s a possibility, a strong possibility, that she’s in Gaza alive somewhere. We’ve got the hope that she’s alive and that somehow we will get her back — that we’ll be able to hug her, kiss her, fix her. She’s not going to be the same person that left here. We will have to fix her.

Despite the reversal, he said his daughter’s status remains largely unknown.

“It was massive chaos, as you can imagine,” he added. “The only real evidence [that she’s being held in Gaza] is that she hasn’t been found dead, nor her friend where she was sleeping that night, or the mother of her friend. There’s no evidence that they were killed… so we have to presume that they took them as a group.”

Thomas and Natalie Hand pictured during a Channel 12 interview on November 6, 2023. (Screen capture/Channel 12)

“We were [initially] told that she had been murdered. We were in mourning,” Emily’s half-sister Natalie Hand had told Channel 12 in an interview on Sunday. But last week “they told us that it was highly likely that she had been abducted.”

Emily was at a sleepover at a friend’s house on the kibbutz when the Hamas attack began, Natalie Hand said. The friend and friend’s mother were also apparently abducted, despite also initially being declared dead, Natalie said.

On October 12, Thomas Hand had told CNN that he welcomed the news Emily was dead over the alternative. “They just said, ‘We found Emily, she’s dead,’ and I went, ‘Yes’ and smiled, because that was the best news of the possibilities that I knew,” Thomas recounted tearfully at the time. “She was either dead or in Gaza, and if you know anything about what they do to people in Gaza, that is worse than death… so death was a blessing.”

Hand moved to Kibbutz Be’eri as a volunteer 30 years ago, and stayed there to raise a family. He had Natalie and a son, Aiden, with his first wife, before getting divorced. He later had Emily with his second wife, Liat, who died of cancer five years ago.

Kibbutz Be’eri was one of the communities to sustain the most damage on October 7, when some 3,000 Hamas terrorists stormed into southern Israel, killing 1,400 people, many of them civilians who were murdered in their homes.

Some 10% of the kibbutz’s population, or more than 120 people, were killed or taken captive during the onslaught, and for Thomas and his family, this has left the future uncertain, in more ways than one.

“We don’t know where we’re going to end up,” he told Channel 12 on Monday. “We don’t know if we’ll ever go back to Be’eri.  We don’t know if it’s ever going to be safe enough to go back to Be’eri, so at least for the next few years, we’re going to remain refugees.

“It’s a heavy, heavy burden,” he continued. “But we will get over it, and hopefully, we will get [the hostages] back. We have to get them back. Somehow… There’s nothing we can do about our dead except mourn, but by God, we can do something about the hostages to get them back.”

Natalie Hand (right), interviewed by Channel 12 about her sister, Emily, 8 (pictured left), who is believed held hostage in Gaza, November 5, 2023 (Channel 12 screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the copyright law)

Emily’s family has noted that she has Irish citizenship and that Irish authorities have promised to do what they can to help, although they have made clear that their capacity to do so is limited.

In an interview with the Irish Times, Thomas said that he knows “Ireland is putting pressure, putting forward the case that they have an Irish citizen taken as a hostage in Gaza through the negotiators.

“We know the Irish prime minister has said he’s happy to take Gazan refugees. Well, if you’re happy to do that, try and do something about your own citizen as well,” he added.

“She was a little angel and she actually looked like an angel. She was very, very sociable and she loved music,” he told the Irish Times on October 18, prior to the discovery that Emily is believed to be alive. “She would sing in the house all day long and she loved dancing. She would watch videos of Beyoncé; she was her favorite and would pick up the moves really quickly.”

“I want to tell you that we are doing everything to get you home,” Natalie Hand said from the Channel 12 studio, addressing her sister. “We know you are being held hostage. We love you so much and miss you.”

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