Mourning his 8-year-old daughter believed killed in Hamas’ October 7 attacks on Israel, Thomas Hand said he was at least partially consoled militants had not taken her hostage.
Of all the terrible possibilities for her, death was the least painful, he said.
But then the Israeli military gave him the news that nearly made him collapse.
Emily might still be alive.
“It’s her birthday on the 17th of [November]. She will be 9,” he said. “She won’t even know day it is. She won’t know it’s her birthday. There will be no birthday cake. No party, no friends. She will just be petrified in a tunnel under Gaza. That is her birthday.”
Emily was sleeping at her friend’s house in the kibbutz of Be’eri when Hamas militants attacked one month ago, killing more than 120 residents and kidnapping many others in a bloody and indiscriminate rampage that has left a deep and abiding scar on the close-knit border community.
The IDF estimates 240 Israeli hostages are being held by Hamas in Gaza, including civilian men, women and children.
The militant group has released just four hostages – two elderly Israeli women and an American mother and daughter – while the IDF last week said troops had rescued an Israeli soldier.
Information about the status and whereabouts of the hostages remains scarce but many of the missing are believed to be trapped within the labyrinth of Hamas tunnels that have been dug beneath the enclave.
Israel insists there will be no ceasefire until the hostages are freed.
“I went ‘yes!’ I went ‘yes’ and smiled. Because that is the best news of the possibilities that I knew. That was the best possibility I was hoping for,” he said, tears streaming down his face.
“She was either dead or in Gaza. And if you know anything about what they do to people in Gaza, that is worse than death.”
Hand said he had been planning to hold a funeral for Emily so she could be buried beside her mother, who died from cancer a few years ago.
But the Israeli military has told him her body is not with the remains of the victims, and no blood was found inside the home where she slept the night before the attacks, he said.
The military also said cellphones belonging to the family Emily was staying with had been tracked inside Gaza, according to Hand.
Hand said he is now flooded with both hope and despair, anguished by what Emily might be enduring, but praying once more for her safe return.
“(I am) extremely worried about her,” he said. “What conditions she has been held in… your imagination is horrible.”
The survivors of the Be’eri massacre are temporarily living in a hotel. In the lobby, there’s a vigil for hostages, which Emily’s photo will be added to, Hand said.
“The unknown is awful, the waiting is awful,” he said. “That is what we have got to do now, just pray and hope that she comes back in some broken state that we can fix her. We will fix her somehow.”
Hand’s thoughts are now on the possibility of an emotional reunion with the daughter he had believed was dead.
“In my head, I can see her running to me, and me running to her, picking her up, never letting her go,” he said.