The Irish father of an eight-year-old Israeli girl who is feared taken to Gaza has asked for a renewed focus on the Israeli hostages taken to Gaza.
Emily Hand was originally feared dead after the Hamas assault on Kibbutz Be’eri in Israel on October 7.
However, the eight-year-old’s family have been informed she may still be alive and being held hostage by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
On October 7, Hamas launched thousands of rockets and militants killed 1,400 Israeli civilians, as well as taking an estimated 200 other citizens hostage to Gaza.
Israel has responded with missile attacks and a blockade on the war-torn enclave, as part of an operation to target Hamas’s leaders and operations.
More than 11,000 people have been killed in the region and aid agencies have warned that low supplies of food, water and medicines are creating an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.
Thomas Hand, originally from Dun Laoghaire in Dublin, described his daughter Emily as a “fun-loving child” who loves music, dancing and singing.
“Even my dog misses her. She used to use him as a pillow, stick her head down and fall asleep. Funny, the things that you miss, and now she’s kidnapped in Gaza along with many others.
“I want to hug Emily again, love her, fix her.”
He was speaking in Dublin on Monday after travelling there along with his older daughter Natali in order “to drum up as much sympathy and support” as possible.
Similar events are being held in other Israeli embassies to raise the case of citizens feared kidnapped during the attack over a month ago.
Imagining being reunited with Emily, he said: “I’m going to hold her forever. I’m never going to let her go.”
He said he is “very happy” with the Irish government’s efforts to free hostages, and said they have been doing “a lot”, adding that the Irish ambassador to Israel, Sonya McGuinness, had visited them to give them the “little information” she had.
Asked whether he is afraid of rockets being launched in Gaza while his daughter is in the enclave, he said: “I’m sure Emily was taken by the Hamas, not the Palestinian people, by the Hamas – and they’ll be safe down in the tunnels with the Hamas, they’ll be safe down there.”
He added: “I feel sorry for the Palestinian people. They’re suffering for what the Hamas is doing to them. They say that we’re the occupiers, we’re not the occupiers, Hamas is the occupiers.”
Natali Hand said she was in Australia when the Hamas attack happened, and got a video call from Emily who told her that her friend’s house, where she had been staying the night, was burning.
“She was asking me why I didn’t take her to Australia.
“Our bodies hurt from crying, we have no tears left,” said Natali, whose mother was killed on October 7.
She said they wanted to keep the international focus on the kidnapped children in particular.
“They shouldn’t be suffering because of politics, it has nothing to do with that,” she said.
“We’ll do everything we can to get her back.”
Irish premier Leo Varadkar met Mr Hand in Government Buildings on Monday evening.
In a statement afterwards, the Taoiseach said he assured the Hand family that the Government “will do all in its power to secure the release of Emily and to assist the Hand family”.
“I committed to continue calling for all hostages held by Hamas to be released immediately, and I also committed to continue raising the issue of hostages with international agencies and Governments, and through any other avenues which might help,” he said.
“I also used the opportunity of the meeting with the Israeli Ambassador to raise the issue of Irish-Palestinian dual citizens in Gaza who have asked to leave the territory.”
The Taoiseach said he raised Emily’s case in Paris last week with the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, the Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, and Prince Rashid, chief adviser to the King of Jordan and the head of Jordan’s humanitarian operation.
Eylon Keshet also spoke of his cousin Yarden Bibas, his wife Shiri Bibas and their sons Ariel, four, and 10-month-old Kfir, who are feared kidnapped in Gaza.
“Release them. I want them back. But I don’t want any more body bags,” he said.
“It’s important to understand that this is a humanitarian issue – regardless of politics, a 10-month-old baby can’t be used as a bargaining chip for any political or religious reason whatsoever.”
Dana Erlich, the Israeli ambassador to Ireland, said the event was part of “an international call” to raise awareness.
“This visit and these delegations are not just being held here in Ireland, but also in other countries,” she told PA.
“So we’re working in other countries because we are reaching out to the world, asking to join our cry.
“We see how Unicef is involved in Gaza, but we didn’t hear anything from Unicef about our children in Gaza that are kidnapped.
“And we see the Red Cross, again, making pleas about Gaza but, we feel that our kidnapped families, 240 people, have been forgotten in a way. They can’t forget, and we can’t forget.”
She said the current conflict between Israel and Hamas was not about sides.
She added: “We hurt with the people of Gaza, and we hurt with our people. This is human lives (that) we’re talking about but from both ends.
“We all need to hold Hamas accountable for what they’re doing to both sides.
“The Irish Government has been very clear about condemning Hamas, and we need to continue doing so and hold them accountable to everything that they’re doing.”