Emily Hand: Irish-Israeli girl, 9, feared dead in Hamas attack is reunited with father

Watch the moment nine-year-old Emily Hand is reunited with her father after being held hostage

A nine-year-old Irish-Israeli girl, who was originally feared dead, is among the latest hostages to be freed by Hamas and has been reunited with her father.

Emily Hand had been held hostage by militants in Gaza for 50 days after being captured in the Hamas attack on Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7.

In a video widely shared on social media, Emily - who spent her ninth birthday in captivity - was reunited with her father Thomas, originally from Dun Laoghaire in Dublin.

Mr Hand had initially been told his daughter had been killed during the Hamas attack and expressed relief over fears that she would have suffered more having been taken hostage.

However weeks later, he was told his daughter was believed to have been one of the those taken hostage and began campaigning, along with members of his extended family, for her release.

Emily Hand turned nine while being held by Hamas. Credit: Family handout

“We have been waiting for far too long for this moment. Every day has been a long and painful living nightmare… my Emily is coming home at last, broken but in one piece,” Mr Hand said.

“She turned nine on November 17, more than a month after she was taken from me.

“I am sure she had no idea it was her birthday – she would have lost track of time and dates there. I still have the party balloons – this one is floating in my hotel room, but it’s lost a lot of air, it’s going flat. We’ll get hundreds and hundreds now and make a great party.

“She’ll have the best Christmas and Hanukkah she’s ever had. I’m a lapsed Catholic and her mum and almost all her friends are Jewish, so we celebrate both.

“I may take her out of Israel altogether so she can recover in a country that’s fully at peace. Like England.”

Emily Hand was one of the 13 Israeli and four hostages Hamas released late on Saturday. Credit: AP

Emily’s family in Ireland had held a birthday party for her at St Stephen’s Green in the Irish capital as they campaigned for her to be reunited to her father.

Prior to his daughter's release, Mr Hand met Irish president Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tanaiste Micheal Martin to press politicians to do all they can to secure Emily's safe return.

Mr Higgins welcomed Emily’s release, saying it brought an end to “a horrific time for all of her family”.

In a statement he said: “It is my great hope that Emily can now, despite all that she has endured, enjoy a happy and fulfilling life after what has been an unimaginable situation for such a young child.

“While we particularly recognise this important moment as an Irish-Israeli child is released, we must also retain a focus on what is now needed – a durable ceasefire, the release of all remaining hostages, and a commitment from all sides to engaging in the task of building what can be an enduring peace.”

Family members of Israeli hostages who are being held in Gaza, including Thomas Hand Credit: second right

Mr Varadkar described “a day of enormous joy and relief for Emily Hand and her family”.

“An innocent child who was lost has now been found and returned, and our country breathes a massive sigh of relief. Our prayers have been answered,” he said.

“A little girl was snatched from her home and held captive for almost seven weeks. She spent her ninth birthday as a hostage. We hope she will soon heal and recover from the traumatic experience in the loving embrace of her family.”

He paid tribute to her family’s tireless campaigning for Emily’s release.

“They travelled across Europe to keep her plight in the public eye. When I met Tom and Natali in Dublin, their pain was etched on their faces, but so was their courage and determination to ensure that Emily would be freed. I shared their grief and was inspired by their example,” he said.

“Irish people everywhere share in the relief of Emily’s family. Our thoughts and prayers are with all the hostages in Gaza, but we followed particularly closely the fate of Emily, a dual Irish-Israeli citizen.

“Since our country first heard that she may still be alive, we have hoped beyond hope that her name would be on one of the lists of hostages to be released.”

Mr Varadkar said while Emily is now returning to her family, it cannot be forgotten that many more hostages remain in captivity in Gaza.

Mr Martin said he is delighted that Emily, “a bright and beautiful young girl”, has been released and will be reunited with her family.

“After weeks of trauma, this is a precious and deeply moving moment for the Hand family,” he said.

“The people of Ireland have been touched by Emily’s story, her innocence and the quiet dignity and determination of her father Tom.”

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald also welcomed confirmation that Emily Hand is returning to her family.

“The trauma and heartbreak that little Emily and her family have been subjected to over the last number of weeks is unimaginable,” she said.

“I commend the mediators’ efforts, including the government of Qatar and all other neighbouring states, for the constructive role that they have played in securing the release of Emily and the other hostages, as well as Palestinian women and children who were imprisoned under administrative detention, who are finally reuniting with their loved ones today.

“I reiterate my call that all hostages be released urgently and for an immediate full ceasefire to be in place. Ireland must continue to be a voice for peaceful dialogue on the international stage.”

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