She must be thinking, ‘Daddy, save me’: parents of hostages describe mental torture
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She must be thinking, ‘Daddy, save me’: parents of hostages describe mental torture

Israeli families visit London to plead for help in bringing their children – and more than 200 others kidnapped by Hamas – home from Gaza

From left: Iris Haim, Doron Lipstein, Thomas Hand and Orit Meir at the press briefing on 20 November
From left: Iris Haim, Doron Lipstein, Thomas Hand and Orit Meir at the press briefing on 20 November

For an hour in a room in central London came the sound of torture. Three parents of young Israelis kidnapped into Gaza spoke of their unrelenting, unbearable pain since 7 October. It is a double agony: of knowing that their children were taken by terrorists and of not knowing anything about what has happened to them since.

The parents were joined by the brother of Ofir Lipstein, who was one of the 1,200 people Hamas murdered that Saturday.

Emily Hand

Of the parents who spoke at the briefing at the Israeli embassy on Monday, Thomas Hand has the youngest child. Emily turned nine on 17 November, while in captivity. At first there was an unofficial report that his daughter, who had been at a friend’s house on a sleepover on their kibbutz, Be’eri, had been killed. However,  no DNA was found and later a witness emerged to her being kidnapped and taken to Gaza.

“In that moment I was being thrown back into the nightmare,” her Irish-Israeli father told the audience. “And believe me, it’s a nightmare. We don’t know if she’s being fed, watered, if she has a place to go to the toilet even.”

Emily Hand turned nine in captivity

At times he was tearful, at times angry; and at times, between his words, came the sound of sobbing from journalists in the room. “The sheer terror of a nine-year-old girl down in those dark tunnels, never seeing the light of day. Sheer terror, panic, every hour of every day. She must be saying every day, ‘Where’s my daddy? Why doesn’t he come to save me?’ That’s what we’re all living through.”

Hand, who has lived on Be’eri for about 20 years, recalled the morning of the attack. He expected to go into the safe room and “wait till it’s all over and then come out and carry on with your day”, he said. “But this was different. Very different.

“Single shotgun fire, rapid automatic gunfire, we know all the sounds of war on Be’eri. This was very close. It started the other side of the kibbutz and kept getting closer and closer and spreading out all over the kibbutz. There were about 400 Hamas terrorists, slaughtering families, killing, raping, dismembering bodies. I don’t know how a human being can be that evil.”

This was the moment I knew that my life was going to change, was never going to be the same. My life is a nightmare

Hand says he himself was holed up in his safe room from 6.30am until 1am the next day. “It was terrifying,” he said. “You went from shaking with fear to stiff with fear, praying for someone to come and rescue us.”

His ex-wife, the mother of his two older children, was shot dead as she left the burning safe room, probably trying to get to her mother’s house. Hand has been back to Be’eri and seen the bloodstained path where she died.

For now, he is praying he will get his daughter back. Struggling through tears, he said: “I don’t know what condition she’s going to be in but she’s going to be broken, mentally and physically. And we’ll have to fix that. It’s going to take a long time to fix that but we’ll do it. That’s my prime focus, my reason for living.”

Almog Meir

Orit Meir’s 21-year-old son, Almog, was taken from the Nova music festival. He was celebrating getting a new job, in IT. She told her story: “At 7.45 in the morning he woke me up [with a phone call] and said, ‘Mum, they closed the party. They are shooting all over. I don’t know what is going on. Mum, I love you.’ This was the last call from him.

Thomas Hand comforts Orit Meir, whose 21-year-old son Almog was abducted from the Nova music festival

“I turned on the TV and saw all the tragedy.” Her daughter asked on Facebook whether anyone had seen Almog at the festival. “After three hours we got a phone call from his friend who had seen the videoclip that Hamas published,” Meir said. “We saw him lying on the floor with other young guys, their hands were tied, they were being beaten, he covered his face with his hands. He was frightened.

“This was the moment I knew that my life was going to change, was never going to be the same. My life is a nightmare.” She said she was unable to sleep, eat or work in her job. “Everything’s stopped. I’m working now to bring him back home. I can’t do anything else.” Through tears, she said: “Help us. I want my son with me now.”

Yotam Haim

Iris Haim said she lost contact with her son, 28-year-old Yotam, at 10.44am on 7 October. “Since then we’ve just had the basic clue that he’s in Gaza,” she said. “We saw that he left his room on Kibbutz Kfar Aza not wounded, on his legs, walking, which gave us a little comfort.”

Yotam, a musician, needs monthly medication for a health condition. “As a mother I cannot explain how I feel that my son not with me,” Haim said.  “What I wanted to tell to you is that this evil is not against the Jewish people. It’s against the whole world. It started in Israel but it will continue, to harm every person in the free world.”

Ofir Lipstein

Doron Lipstein spoke on Monday about the four members of his family who were killed on 7 October, including his brother. Ofir, 50, head of the Sha’ar Hanegev regional council, was about to build a centre for 10,000 Palestinians in his municipality, his brother said. He was killed in an exchange of gunfire with the terrorists who attacked Kfar Aza. Doron added: “He was fully invested in building communities of friends. He was a friend to the president of Israel and a friend to the Palestinians.”

All the speakers were united in their efforts to press for support in their goal of getting the 240 hostages back home as soon as possible, and in freeing Gaza from Hamas.

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