Emily turned 9 on Friday. Like many little girls the world over, she loves to sing and to dance like Beyonce.
But unlike those other girls, Emily “spent her birthday in the Gaza tunnels,” one of the scores of hostages snatched by terror group Hamas during its devastating October 7 attack on Israel, according to her father Thomas Hand.
“She wouldn’t even know it was her birthday. She doesn’t know what day it is, and what date it is,” Irish-born Hand told AFP Sunday, making a heart-rending appeal to the UK to bring Emily home.
Based on initial information, the 63-year-old thought his daughter was dead.
“But that was mistaken identity,” he said on the sidelines of a rally held outside Downing Street in London for the release of the more than 240 people being held hostage by the Palestinian Islamist group. Demonstrators also protested against a spike in antisemitism that has followed the Hamas attack.
The DNA tests didn’t match, he added.
“Later on we had an eyewitness… (who) saw her being led away by the terrorists, into a van off to Gaza” after the attack on Kibbutz Be’eri, he said.
Father of 9 year old kidnapped Israeli girl Emily Hand speaks today at an event outside Downing Street, London organized by @caaauk.
Thomas Hand her father said:
“My daughter Emily was kidnapped…she’s now in the hands of Hamas- down deep in the tunnels of Hamas.”
“She’s now… pic.twitter.com/5oIA26UyZM
— Oli London (@OliLondonTV) November 19, 2023
For Hand, who moved to Israel at the age of 32, Be’eri had been idyllic.
“Seriously, it was paradise on earth… until it all came crushing down” on that “terrifying day,” he said.
The kibbutz saw some of the worst atrocities on October 7, when Gaza-based Hamas terrorists stormed across the border and rampaged through southern areas, killing at least 1,200 people, mostly civilians slaughtered in local communities or at a music festival. The gunmen also abducted at least 240 hostages of all ages, including the elderly and infants, who are being held in Gaza.
Israel declared war on Hamas in response, launching an aerial campaign and a subsequent ground offensive aimed at toppling the Gaza-ruling terror group and securing the release of the hostages.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry claims that 13,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war on October 7, including at least 5,500 children and 3,500 women. The figures provided by the terror group cannot be independently verified and do not differentiate between civilians and Hamas operatives, and also do not distinguish those killed by Israeli airstrikes and those killed by failed Palestinian rocket launches.
“We have no idea what the future is, we’re refugees in our own country,” said Hand, who now lives in a hotel with the rest of his kibbutz members.
He doesn’t not know if they will return to Be’eri, or if it will “ever be safe enough” to do so. “Obviously, if the Hamas are still there, we’re never gonna come back there.”
At the podium on Sunday, Hand spoke of “families slaughtered” and “bodies everywhere,” with the Israeli soldiers who came to evacuate the residents telling everyone, “Don’t look to the sides, keep your eyes on my back,” to prevent them from seeing the carnage.
His face gaunt, Hand said he had lost 12 kilograms since his daughter went missing, adding that he was exhausted and “shattered.”
“There’s just a big hole in all our hearts that won’t be filled until she comes home again,” he said.
The hostages’ relatives worry about their health.
“We don’t know… if they’re still alive,” Hand said.
His only focus is to “just keep marching forward until we get her back.”
Hand has met Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar as part of the campaign to pile pressure on governments.
On October 7, his daughter had spent the night at a friend’s house for a sleepover.
“She’s only ever done it twice,” said Hand, who normally would host Emily’s friends because he had plenty of space.
Hand’s wife died of cancer when Emily was two and a half.
‘Living in a nightmare’
Emily’s ninth birthday was marked by demonstrations, notably in London, while in New York, the little girl’s face was displayed in Times Square.
WATCH-Huge crowd in London sending little 9 year old Emily Hand – who celebrated her 9th birthday last week – a very special birthday message
— We Stand With Israel (@SussexFriends) November 19, 2023
“She’s only nine years old, her place is at home with us, in her own room, in her own bed,” said Hand from the rostrum in front of hundreds of people who chanted, “Bring them home.”
“Help me bring her home!” he cried, in a speech punctuated by groans of pain.
“Honestly I don’t know how long I can do without her,” he said, adding that “we’re all living in a nightmare.”
“It’s gonna take generations to truly fix us,” he said in tears.
With the lights from their phones held aloft, the crowd sang “Happy Birthday.”