Believed dead, then alive in Gaza - father of child hostage clings to hope

By Eli Berlzon

BY THE DEAD SEA, Israel (Reuters) - Tom Hand has gone from hoping his daughter Emily had died quickly after she went missing during the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas gunmen in southern Israel to agonized thoughts of her spending her ninth birthday as a hostage in a tunnel in Gaza.

Emily had been on a sleepover at a friend's house in Be'eri, one of a ring of kibbutzes around the Gaza Strip targeted by Hamas in an attack that began in early morning and ended hours later with 1,400 people killed and about 240 taken hostage by Israel's count in the deadliest day of its 75-year-old history.

"Unofficial reports came in that she was found dead in the kibbutz," said Hand, who is now living in a hotel on the Dead Sea with others evacuated from Be'eri. "I was relieved. I was relieved that she was dead and it was all over, it would have been pretty quick."

More than 100 people were killed in Be'eri over more than 24 hours. Many were shot with their families or found dead with their hands bound. Rescue workers said some were burned alive. He had been at home and the gunmen never reached his house.

"You try to imagine the, the best, you know. You hope that it was quick," Hand said. "Crazy thought, for a parent to say but, yeah, it was a relief thinking that she wasn't in Gaza."

A 64-year-old Irish immigrant who came to Be'eri in 1992 as a 32-year-old volunteer, Hand worked as a printer in the kibbutz, where he met Emily's mother Liat.

Liat died when Emily was just 2-1/2 years old but the family had remained in the kibbutz where Hand's first wife Narkis also lived. She was killed on Oct. 7.

For weeks, Hand believed that Emily had also died in the attack before he was told by the army that her body had not been found. Then he knew she had been kidnapped and was probably being held in a network of tunnels built by Hamas.

"So now I know she is in Gaza and she's alive. She's going to be 9 in the tunnels," he said. "She won't even know it's her birthday. She'll have no idea of night or day or time."

"There'll be no birthday party, no birthday cake, no friends around. But you know, yeah. Now we hope, now we pray."


Since the Oct. 7 attack, Israel has pounded the Gaza Strip in a campaign of bombardment that Gaza authorities say has killed more than 11,000 people and launched a ground operation to destroy Hamas. The government and military have vowed to bring as many hostages back as possible.

Now that Hand has learned that Emily was alive, he said he had been forced into a complete mental shift to think: "OK, we're going to get her back, we're going to get her back. We're going to get them all back."

He said Emily was a fan of the American singer Beyonce and he focused on staying strong enough to bring her home and thinking of ways to bring her enjoyment.

"I'll make sure I'll get her to the next Beyonce concert. Bring her to Disney World, I'll spend all my money, every penny I've got to give her fun to make up for everything that she's lost and everything she's going through," he said, fighting tears. "I'm going to give her the world."

"We're all waiting for her," he said. "We know we're going to get you back. Be strong every day and wait, we're coming to get you. We're coming to get you home. We're going to bring you home."

(Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Howard Goller)