Tom Hand and his daughter Emily, who was kidnapped by Hamas on Oct. 7. Credit: Tom Hand.

AMELIE BOTBOL

Emily Hand was among the some 240 people kidnapped by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7 and taken back to the Gaza Strip. Her ninth birthday was on Friday.

She was initially thought to have been killed during the massacre, but Israeli authorities later reversed course.

In the latter’s Times Square, Emily’s father Tom unveiled a massive billboard of his child.

“My girl was kidnapped by terrorists. My girl and the other abductees deserve to be reunited with their families and return to their lives” he told JNS on Friday.

On Oct. 7, Emily was sleeping over at a friend’s house in Kibbutz Be’eri, roughly 9 kilometers (6 miles) from the Gaza border, when Hamas launched its assault, killing 1,200 and wounding thousands.

Initially, authorities at the kibbutz told Tom that his daughter had likely been killed. The family’s plight went viral after a distraught Tom stated in an interview that his first reaction to the news that his daughter had been murdered instead of captured had been relief.

However, roughly a month later the IDF confirmed that Emily’s body had not been found among the remains of some 120 people killed in Kibbutz Be’eri, and that no traces of blood had been found in the house where she was staying.

Moreover, cellphones belonging to members of the family with whom she had been staying were tracked to Gaza.

About 40 children are currently being held by Hamas.

“We must not cooperate with terrorism. The whole world should demand that Emily and everyone else be brought home now,” Hand told JNS. “Our goal is for the whole world to understand that innocent citizens are being held right now.

“Like any other child in the world, Emily deserves to celebrate her birthday with friends, balloons and a cake,” he added.

As his daughter turned nine in the darkness of Hamas’s underground tunnels, Hand called on world leaders to “oppose this situation and exert all possible pressure to return the children and all the abductees home.”

Last week, Hand, accompanied by his daughter Natalie, traveled to Ireland with a delegation led by Ophyr Hanan, head of International Affairs and Press for the NGO Israel-Is, to seek the support of Irish officials including Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and Foreign Minister Micheál Martin.

Tom Hand, second from the right, meets Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, center, and Israel’s Ambassador in Ireland, Dana Erlich, center right. Photo Courtesy of Ophyr Hanan and the Embassy of Israel in Dublin.

In a show of solidarity, Martin on Thursday toured Sderot and Kibbutz Be’eri, after which he “unreservedly condemn[ed] the brutal attack by Hamas and call[ed] for the immediate & unconditional release of hostages.”

Martin also met Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh in Ramallah. He expressed to Shtayyeh his “sympathy to the Palestinian people over civilian deaths in Gaza,” and the two “discussed the role the international community must play in the path to peace and Ireland’s support for the two state solution.”

On Saturday evening, tens of thousands of people completed a four-day march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, where they held a rally outside of the Prime Minister’s Office in support of the hostages.

Such demonstrations help Hand remain hopeful of being reunited with his daughter sooner rather than later.

“I want to believe that everything is being done to bring Emily and the abductees home. I want to believe that there is no person in this world who thinks it is legitimate to break into people’s homes, massacre them and kidnap children, women and families,” Hand told JNS.

On Friday, Abbey Onn, 44, from Herzliya, marked a very different, albeit deeply connected, occasion: 30 days since the burial of her young cousin, Noya Dan, 13, and her aunt Carmela Dan, 80. Both were killed by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Nir Oz on Oct. 7.

Abbey Onn and her aunt Carmela Dan, who was murdered by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7. Credit: Dor Dan.

Three of Onn’s family members are currently being held hostage: Erez Kalderon, who previously turned 12 years old in captivity, Sahar Kalderon,16, and their father Ofer, 50.

“For us, as well as for every single Israeli, it feels like Oct. 7 happened yesterday. Since then has resembled one long nightmarish day. It is insane to think that so much time has passed yet the hostages are still not home,” Onn told JNS.

Onn met with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken during his recent visit to Israel, and also spoke to U.S. President Joe Biden via Zoom.

“As time passes, we feel that things are a little bit out of our hands,” she said. “We are doing everything possible to make sure that those who are currently negotiating the release of hostages keep it their first priority.”

Netanyahu also confirmed that operations at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital, under which Hamas has built its terrorist nerve center, was being partially undertaken due to “strong indications” that some of the hostages were at one point held at the facility.

The Washington Post reported shortly after on Saturday that Israel and Hamas were close to a U.S.-brokered agreement that would see dozens of women and children held hostage in Gaza freed in exchange for a five-day pause in fighting.

However, U.S. officials clarified on Saturday night that no deal had yet been reached.

That message was echoed by Netanyahu, who also said on Saturday night that “there was no [hostage] deal on the table,” adding, “We’re doing the utmost to bring back the most possible, including in stages, and we are united on this.”

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