Israeli-Irish girl Emily Hand (9), who spent 50 days as a Hamas hostage in Gaza, is slowly recovering from her ordeal, her father Tom told an Israeli television news programme on Thursday evening.
Emily, whose father is from Dublin, was seized from her home on kibbutz Be’eri on October 7th by Hamas gunmen, who went door-to-door killing and kidnapping many residents. She returned home on Saturday night as part of a series of hostage releases, while a temporary ceasefire was in place in Gaza.
Israel TV’s Channel 12 documentary show, Uvda (Fact) featured Emily’s story on Thursday night, with host Ilana Dayan speaking to Tom Hand and Emily’s older half-sister Natali.
Viewers heard that Emily didn’t sleep for the first three days in captivity. She was kept above ground throughout her period in Gaza and was moved a number of times, sometimes being forced to run by her captives. She told Natali she saw a man being shot at, but he didn’t die, and she didn’t want to elaborate with further detail.
Emily turned nine while in Gaza, and she told her family she counted the days so she knew when it was her birthday. She grew to like olive oil on bread, the food she was given most days. On her return, she craved sushi.
Her family said that Emily came back from Gaza significantly thinner, and whispering instead of speaking. Her family and friends are being guided by a team of psychologists and social workers, and she is readjusting well.
Uvda viewers were told that after returning to Israel, she threw everything she brought back from Gaza into the bin. She refers to Gaza as “the box”.
“She’s seen some things that no kid of her age should see,” Tom explained. “They didn’t beat her. I asked her today and she said no. That’s good. They haven’t molested her in any way. That was the biggest worry. I asked her how long she thought she’d been in Gaza and she said a year.”
Emily assumed that her father and everyone else on the kibbutz had been taken hostage, they said.
Emily’s older sister Natali, Tom’s daughter by his first marriage, explained that there have been some changes in Emily’s behaviour. These are clearly connected to her time in captivity.
Before she eats food, Emily offers it first to others – something she never did before. Natali asked her if, in Gaza, they offered the food to the most hungry, and Emily nodded. She also said the word “askut” a few times. Natali didn’t know what this meant: it’s Arabic for “shut up” or “be quiet”.
Emily’s mother Liat died from breast cancer some five years ago. Natali’s mother Narkis, who had a very close bond with Emily, was among the almost 100 residents of Be’eri murdered in the Hamas attack. The most difficult moment of Emily’s return was when she asked about Narkis.
“The three of us [Tom, Natalie and Aiden, Emily’s half-brother] sat with her and told her Narkis had been murdered,” Natali said. “That was the word we used. We didn’t want to say she’s in heaven or she’s not with us. We wanted it to be clear.”
After being told the news, Emily didn’t cry. She was in shock, viewers were told.
Tom was originally informed that Emily had been killed in the Hamas attack. Three weeks later, he was told that she was actually being held in Gaza. Natali explained that Emily has already seen the clip of the CNN interview with Tom in which he expressed joy when hearing Emily was dead because he thought this would be better for her than to be a prisoner of Hamas.
“Did you really think I was dead?” Emily asked Natali. She replied yes and Emily asked Natali if she cried.
When asked what the plan for the future is, Tom said: “Fix her. Fix my broken child. Fix my broken baby. The one thing I’m determined to do when she’s recovered enough, I’m gonna find out where Beyoncé is touring and I don’t care where it is in the world, she’s going. She adores her.”
When asked if he would return to kibbutz Be’eri, Tom said “I found a paradise on earth for 30 or 31 years and overnight it was turned into hell. But still, they will never defeat us. We will rise from the ashes of that morning.”
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