Freed Irish-Israeli hostage Emily Hand, 9, was once a ‘happy noisy girl’ but now ‘won’t speak above a whisper’

29 November 2023, 06:22 | Updated: 29 November 2023, 06:23

Emily Hand is afraid to speak above a whisper after being kidnapped, her father has said.
Emily Hand is afraid to speak above a whisper after being kidnapped, her father has said. Picture: Handout/Alamy

By Jenny Medlicott

A nine-year-old hostage freed by Hamas has been left too afraid to speak after her nightmare ordeal in captivity, her dad has said.

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Emily Hand, 9, was captured by Hamas on October 7 while staying at a friend’s for a sleepover.

She spent her ninth birthday in captivity and was made to move between countless Gaza safe houses to dodge the Israeli army throughout her captivity.

Emily was handed over to the Red Cross and driven to the Rafah crossing on Saturday, which connects Gaza and Egypt and was reunited with her Irish father, as well as her two half siblings.

She was released alongside her friend Hila Rotem, 13, who she had been staying with during a sleepover on the day she was captured.

Her Dublin-born father Tom, 63, has said the nine-year-old Disney fan was once a “happy, noisy kid” but “now she whispers” after her nightmare ordeal.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to get Emily back to where she was," he said.

“Her chubby cheeks may have gone but she’s smiling again now she’s safe.

“I can’t bear to think about what she’s been through - she’s been terrorised by terrorists in hell - but as her dad it’s my job to make it better and I will."

Read more: Family of 10-month Israeli baby held hostage fear Hamas 'keeping him as a trophy' as he is not on latest release list

Read more: Hamas 'refuses to give youngest hostage back to Israel' and hands 10-month-old baby to separate terror group

Emily was reunited with her father after her Saturday release.
Emily was reunited with her father after her Saturday release. Picture: Alamy

Tom originally believed his daughter had been killed by Hamas, saying she was “better off dead” than in the captivity of the terror group.

But 23 days later, tests suggested there was a chance Emily was still alive after they failed to locate her DNA or any traces of her blood near the scene of her capture.

“She ran to me and hugged me but she was clearly in a state of shock because she believed I had been kidnapped as well,” Tom told The Sun of the moment Emily was released.

“She looked at me as if to say, ‘What are you doing here?

“It was only then I realised that she had no idea what had happened to the rest of the kibbutz.”

Tom’s ex-wife Narkis, 52, was killed during the October 7 attack when Hamas targeted the Be’eri kibbutz near Gaza.

The father-of-three spent 19 hours trapped in his safe room while the raid was carried out.

He said after the attack, he and his two other children had been grieving for the loss of Narkis and Emily.

“I completely believed that she had gone and had a kind of closure and I don’t regret saying that she was better off dead than being kidnapped by these people.”

Emily was held captive for 50 days by Hamas.
Emily was held captive for 50 days by Hamas. Picture: Handout

Emily was not hit or abused by her kidnappers or held in the terror tunnels known as the ‘Gaza Metro’, he said, but instead faced the unrelenting danger of being moved from house to house during the height of Israel’s bombardment on the terror group.

“They were shouting ‘yala yala yala’ in Arabic - ‘hurry hurry hurry’ — at my terrified little girl as she ran for her life.

“She was constantly being moved - sometimes under fire - to stay one step ahead of the army.

“She must have been absolutely terrified - an eight-year-old girl being led by strangers from one blown-up shell of a house to the next in the middle of a war zone.”

Tom said since Emily’s return the impact of her time during captivity is evident.

She is now afraid to speak above a whisper, which Tom believes could be because she was ordered to stay silent to protect the terror group’s location.

“She was a normal happy noisy kid but now she whispers - she was moving her lips with no volume or even air coming out,” he added.

It’s still too soon for Emily to discuss her time in captivity but her family has picked up on "clues" such as her silence indicating what she must have gone through.

She is now being evaluated by child trauma specialists in a hospital near Tel Aviv.

Tom said she won’t use the word Gaza, instead asking to refer to it as ‘The Box’.

It comes after Israel and Hamas agreed to a 48-hour extension to the four-day truce agreed upon last week.

Hamas has released 81 hostages from Gaza since Friday, as part of a truce deal with Israel, out of a total of around 240 taken in the attacks on October 7.

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