Ninth birthday of Irish-Israeli girl taken hostage by Hamas marked with empty table

Emily Hand was on a sleepover at a friend’s house when the terror group stormed their village


Ballons and banners are picturing during a gathering outside the office of the NGO Save The Children International, in London, on November 17, 2023 for the 9th birthday of Irish-Israeli girl Emily Hand held hostage by Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza. About 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed in Israel and and around 240 people taken hostage, according to Israeli officials following the Hamas attack of October 7, 2023. Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas in retaliation for October 7 assault. Its relentless bombardment and growing ground offensives has left more than 11,500 people dead, mostly civilians and including thousands of children, according to Gaza's Hamas-run health ministry. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)

The table was set for 37 children, on each plate a pink or blue cupcake and tied to each chair, a balloon.

In the middle was a place for the birthday girl, Emily Hand, who turned nine on Friday, complete with a birthday cake and candle.

But none of her friends came to sing “Happy Birthday”, and Emily wasn’t there to blow out the candle or eat the first slice of her birthday cake.

This powerful display of a birthday which couldn’t be celebrated – set up outside the London headquarters of Save The Children - was the latest effort of UK-based Israelis to bring the world’s attention to the plight of over 200 hostages held in Gaza, kidnapped by Hamas on October 7.

Next to the table, Israeli graffiti artist Benzi Brofman was creating a large portrait of Emily, who is Israeli Irish and was living on Kibbitz Be’eri. Emily was on a sleepover at a friend’s house when Hamas stormed their village. She was initially thought to have been murdered but is now believed to have been kidnapped by Hamas.

Hodaya Avzada from the Israeli Embassy, which helped coordinate the event alongside the Kidnapped From Israel initiative, told the JC: “Emily is turning nine in Gaza and we have no idea what condition she and the other almost 40 children are in.

“It looks like a happy table, but there are no children. The table represents all the children who should have been here, but they’re not here with us today, and we’re calling to bring them home.”

Asked what role Save the Children should be playing, Avzada said: “NGOs can play a key role in this situation, and I would like to see them more vocal, more active in order to try to get our children out. Save The Children posted something a few days ago about releasing the Israeli hostages, but we are already more than a month into this.

“It just breaks your heart to think that there are children who are being held without their parents; there are children celebrating their birthday. We have no idea how long they will keep them, if they have food. They’re probably underground in tunnels, frightened.”

As birthday songs played from a sound system, they were interrupted by audio footage from October 7 of bullets being fired, terrorists shouting and children crying.

Nicole Cash from London said she “needed to be here”, adding: “I have an Israeli passport and have family and friends in Israel whose children are fighting.

“Keeping the issue of the hostages in the public domain and their voices out there is the most important thing we can do.”

Peter Walsh, a spokesperson for Save the Children, said: “We recognise how difficult and heart-breaking it is when you see a children’s party being set up like this. “We are absolutely devastated for the Hand family and all families of people being held hostage in Gaza.

“It calls on humanity to do something about it, to call for the hostages to be released, to return them to their loved-ones and for a cease-fire in Gaza. This is what we need right now, so we can get much-needed humanitarian aid to children and families.”

Following the terrorist attacks by Hamas in the south of Israel, which saw 1,200 people murdered and over 200 people, including 37 children taken hostage, Save the Children issued a statement on October 7.

It did not mention the terrorist attacks or kidnappings, referring instead to "an escalation in violence between Palestinian armed groups and Israeli forces in Israel and Gaza", and adding that "our teams and their families are bracing for what comes next".

Last week, Gwen Hines, CEO of Save the Children UK, released a statement calling for a ceasefire, in which she referred to “the abhorrent attack on Israeli civilians on October 7th and acknowledged “242 Israelis, including 30 children are being held hostage. I can’t imagine how terrified these children must be.” 

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