"I had to put my ear on her lips and say, 'What did you say?'": Thomas Hand told CNN that his daughter now only speaks in a whisper after being abducted by Hamas militants
Thomas Hand initially thought his daughter Emily, who had been attending a sleepover at a friend’s house in Kibbutz Be’eri, had been killed in the Hamas attack on October 7, but was later told she had been kidnapped and taken to Gaza.
Nine-year-old Emily had to run from house to house, forced to move by Hamas as Israeli forces attacked Gaza, Mr Hand told CNN.
"That’s terrifying. Being pulled, dragged, pushed… under gunfire probably," he said on Tuesday.
It’s one of the details that his daughter is slowly sharing about what happened after she was kidnapped and held in Gaza, a place she now calls "the box."
'It was beautiful, just like I imagined it': Thomas Hand spoke to CNN about the moment he first saw Emily after eight weeks
"She’s coming out slowly, little by little," Mr Hand said. "We’ll only know what she really went through as she opens up.
"I want to know so much information… but you have to let them, when they are ready, come out with it."
Emily was held with her friend Hila Rotem-Shoshani and Hila’s mother Raaya before the children were released last Saturday. Ms Raaya is still being held hostage.
Mr Hand was trapped in his house for hours on October 7, unable to reach his daughter, as the community was ravaged - about 130 residents were killed and others captured.
He was told by kibbutz leaders Emily’s body had been seen.
He told CNN at the time: "They just said, ‘We found Emily. She’s dead.’ And I went, ‘Yes!’ I went, ‘Yes!’ and smiled because that is the best news of the possibilities that I knew… So death was a blessing, an absolute blessing."
But eight weeks after he had last seen his daughter, Mr Hand was informed Emily was on the list of the second batch of hostages to be released under the temporary truce between Israel and Hamas.
He said he tried to hold back his excitement as he reached the base where the freed hostages were being taken.
"All of a sudden the door opened up and she just ran. It was beautiful, just like I had imagined it, running together," Mr Hand said.
Like the other hostages, Emily has lost weight and Mr Hand said he had never seen her so pale. He said he was jolted when she spoke to him.
"I probably squeezed her too hard... It was only when she stepped back that I could see her face was chiseled, like mine, whereas before it was chubby, girly, a young kid face."
He added: "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."
But he also saw a sign of the child he knew when he offered her his phone in the van when leaving.
"The first thing she did was get a Beyoncé song on," he said, adding that she was also smiling and was starting to laugh again.
Emily told her father she thought he had been taken hostage too.
And when he asked her how long she thought she was gone, she replied “a year.”
"Apart from the whispering, that was a punch in the guts. A year."
The hostages had enough food to survive and plenty of water to drink, Mr Hand added.
"They always had a breakfast, sometimes lunch, sometimes something in the evening." He said Emily was so hungry she learned to like eating plain bread with olive oil.
She said "nobody hit us". He said the children could not make noise and were allowed to do little but draw and play with some cards.
Emily lost her mother to cancer when she was just two.
Mr Hand had to tell her that her "second mum", his ex wife Narkis, was killed on October 7. She was the mother of Emily’s two half-siblings.
“That was very hard. We told her and her little eyes glazed over and she took a sharp intake of breath,” he said.
But she is slowly coming back, he added.
"She’s a very determined little girl, very strong, I knew that her spirit would get her through it."
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