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After captivity, Israeli-Irish girl won’t say ‘Gaza’ or ‘blood’

MORE than two months after she was freed from Gaza, Emily Hand no longer speaks in terrified whispers. But the Israeli-Irish girl who was among the youngest Hamas hostages still refuses to name her captors or the Palestinian enclave where she was held.

At the temporary home she shares with her father Tom, a whiteboard lays out their lexicon for the ordeal: Foods she does not like stand in for memories the nine-year-old does not want.

The Gaza Strip is “the box”. Terrorists are “olives”. An abducted person is “cheese”, a murdered person is “cottage cheese”. Blood is “watermelon”.

“Sometimes it doesn’t feel good for me to say such words,” she quietly explained in an interview with Israel’s Kan TV.


Tom said Emily sleeps in his room, as a precaution against nightmares she has suffered in which she dreams of escaping from the Gaza flat where she was kept for seven weeks and trying to run across the battle-scarred fields back to her border village.

That community, Kibbutz Beeri, lost a tenth of its residents to the October 7 killing and kidnapping spree by Hamas-led Palestinian gunmen which triggered an almost four-month-old war.

Separated from Tom, Emily had no way of knowing her father had survived unscathed. Seeing corpses in the kibbutz as she was carted into Gaza, she wondered if he was among them or had also been taken captive and was being held elsewhere, incommunicado.

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When they were reunited during a late-November truce, Tom told Kan that his feelings of self-doubt and guilt were “quashed” in an instant as Emily stared at him with relief and said: “I thought you were dead. I thought you were kidnapped.”

At first, she was almost inaudible, Tom said, due to having been threatened by a knife-wielding male captor to stay silent.

Though Emily’s voice is now more normal, she follows Tom around the house and requires that he stand guard outside the bathroom when she showers, he said. During the Kan interview, she bounded about indoors on rollerskates and played with a dog.

“Emily has healed extremely fast … the resilience of children,” Tom said. “She was immediately a bit more mature, for sure. And I’ve heard that from a lot of other parents.”

In the initial Oct 7 shock, Tom received a false report that Emily had been killed, her body’s whereabouts unknown – only to have his grief overturned at official news that she was a hostage. His ex-wife Narkis, who had helped raise Emily after the girl’s mother died of illness, was found shot dead by Hamas.

“For the rest of us, it (emotional recovery) is much slower,” Tom said. “I’m okay because I’ve got a purpose.”

Israel says 132 of the October 7 hostages remain in Gaza, their fate in the balance as Qatari and Egyptian mediators try to secure another release deal. Among the conditions previously set by Hamas for freeing all of them is an end of the Gaza war, rather than another truce, and that Israel release all of the thousands of Palestinians held in its jails on security grounds.

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Israeli officials believe around 30 of the hostages have died in captivity. Weeping as he spoke to Kan, Tom urged other relatives tormented by worry to “stay strong, stay positive”.


“I know it’s very, very hard, but this is proof that it’s possible. It can come back,” he said. “I had given up all hope, really, and it can happen.”