‘She’s forgotten how to be comforted’: Emily Hand just whispers as she could not make noise in captivity, father says

The Irish-Israeli girl is ‘coming out little by little’ and told her Dublin-born father Tom Hand that she thought her 50 days being held hostage by Hamas lasted a year

The father of Irish-Israeli girl Emily Hand said his daughter is “coming out little by little” after being held hostage in Gaza for 50 days by the Palestinian militant group.

The nine-year-old, who was released from captivity as part of a prisoner exchange between her captors and the Israeli government last weekend, is now only beginning to share details of her ordeal.

Her father Thomas Hand, a native of Dublin, said among the details she has shared is how she was forced to run from house to house during her captivity as Israel attacked Gaza.

“That’s terrifying. Being pulled, dragged, pushed … under gunfire probably,” he said on Tuesday in an extensive interview with CNN.


“She’s coming out slowly, little by little,” he said. “We’ll only know what she really went through as she opens up.

“I want to know so much information … but you have to let them, when they are ready, come out with it.”

Mr Hand also described the moment he was reunited with his daughter.

“All of a sudden the door opened up and she just ran. It was beautiful, just like I had imagined it, running together,” he said. “I probably squeezed her too hard.

“It was only when she stepped back that I could see her face was chiselled, like mine, whereas before it was chubby, girly, a young kid face.”

Emily Hand was released late on Saturday night and brought to the Safra children’s hospital in Tel Hashomer, Tel Aviv, where she recuperated surrounded by her family who had initially believed her dead.

Her father told CNN the most shocking aspect of her post-release behaviour was how she was just whispering having been conditioned not to make any noise.

“You could just see glassy-eyed terror,” he said of the image of Emily released by the Israeli Defense Forces in the aftermath.

“The first thing she did was get a Beyoncé song on,” Tom said, and explained how she was smiling and starting to laugh again.

He also told how he had brought the family dog Johnsie to the reunion in case Emily was angry at him for not coming to rescue her, something he had feared since learning she was alive.

But she told him she thought he too had been taken captive and how her own experience felt as if it had lasted a year.

“Apart from the whispering, that was a punch in the guts. A year,” he said.

Emily, who turned nine in captivity, had been held with friend Hila Rotem-Shoshani and Hila’s mother Raaya who looked after her like her own daughter, he said. Raaya remains in captivity.

They were staying at Hila’s house in Kibbutz Be’eri in early October when Hamas terrorists arrived. About 130 residents were killed and others captured.

Mr Hand was later mistakenly told Emily’s body had been seen.

“They just said, ‘We found Emily. She’s dead.’ And I went, ‘Yes!’ I went, ‘Yes!’ and smiled because that is the best news of the possibilities that I knew,” he told CNN. “So death was a blessing, an absolute blessing.”

Some weeks later he was told that, in fact, she was probably alive and being held captive by Hamas, following an analysis of intelligence by Israeli military.

Although he struggled with not knowing what conditions his daughter was being held in, he was later told she would be one of those in a second group of hostages due to be released.

The hostages had had enough to eat and drink and nobody was hit by their captors, Mr Hand said. However, the children could not make noise and were allowed to do little but draw and play card games.

On her release, Mr Hand had to tell Emily that her “second mom” was killed on October 7th. Mr Hand’s first wife Narkis, mother to his two adult children Aiden and Natali, died during the attack on Kibbutz Be’eri. Emily’s mother Liat died of breast cancer five years ago.

“That was very hard. We told her and her little eyes glazed over and she took a sharp intake of breath,” he said.

“Last night she cried until her face was red and blotchy, she couldn’t stop. She didn’t want any comfort, I guess she’s forgotten how, to be comforted,” Mr Hand told CNN. “She went under the covers of the bed, the quilt, covered herself up and quietly cried.”

However, he is confident in her ability, describing Emily as a “very determined little girl, very strong”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times