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The harrowing ordeal of a 9-year-old hostage left too terrified to talk

Emily is reunited with her father Thomas Hand after being held as a hostage by Hamas
Emily is reunited with her father Thomas Hand after being held as a hostage by Hamas - The Israeli Army

Emily Hand thought she was held hostage by Hamas for a year and only speaks in a whisper after her release from the terrorists’ clutches, her father has said.

The nine-year-old Irish-Israeli had been “conditioned” not to make any noise during her two months in captivity, her father Thomas said.

“She’s a very determined little girl, very strong, I knew that her spirit would get her through it,” Mr Hand told CNN after Emily was freed on the second day of the ceasefire.

Mr Hand was told Emily had been killed in the Oct 7 attack and made international headlines after declaring she would be better off dead than captured by Hamas.

Emily Hand told her father that 'nobody hit us' during her captivity
Emily Hand told her father that 'nobody hit us' during her captivity - Hostages and Missing Families Forum headquarters via AP

The 63 year-old learned she was still alive earlier this month.  On Saturday, they were reunited after she was released as part of the ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas.

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

“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 told her father that “nobody hit us” during her 50 days in captivity. Child hostages were warned not to make any noise and were only allowed to draw and play cards, she said.

“The most shocking, disturbing part of meeting her was she was just whispering, you couldn’t hear her. I had to put my ear on her lips. She’d been conditioned not to make any noise… You could just see glassy-eyed terror,” Mr Hand said.

Thomas Hand said he probably squeezed his daughter Emily too hard when she was returned to him
Thomas Hand said he probably squeezed his daughter Emily too hard when she was returned to him - The Israeli Army

When he asked how long she thought she was held for, Emily replied a year.

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

He said Emily ran from house to house in Gaza to escape the Israeli retaliation to the Hamas attack that murdered about 1,200 people and took 240 hostages.

“That’s terrifying. Being pulled, dragged, pushed… under gunfire probably,” he said.

Emily was staying the night with her friend Hila Rotem-Shoshani and her mother Raaya at the Kibbutz Be’eri when Hamas attacked.

Hila was freed with Emily, whose mother died when she was two,  but Raaya is still being held hostage in Gaza.

“We have to get Raaya back for Hila, back for Emily, back for justice. Don’t go silent on us now. Bring them home, bring them home,” Mr Hand said.

Birthday cake

They celebrated Hila’s 13th birthday with a cake at the hospital on Monday and also had a cake to mark Emily’s ninth birthday, which was on Nov 17 when she was in Gaza.

Mr Hand said it was “very hard” to tell Emily her “second mom” Narkis Hand, his former wife, had been murdered by Hamas.

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

She told her father she had been worried he had been taken hostage as well.

“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.” he said.

“She went under the covers of the bed, the quilt, covered herself up, and quietly cried.”

But the keen dancer’s spirit had not been broken by her ordeal.

On the way home “the first thing she did was get a Beyoncé song on,” Mr Hand said.

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