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1 month after Hamas' attack on Israel, a desperate father's plea: "At least let the children go"

Father of kidnapped Israeli girl makes plea
Father of kidnapped Israeli girl makes plea: "At least let the children go" 02:38

Tel Aviv — More than 200 empty children's beds and cribs sit on a plaza in Tel Aviv — a powerful reminder of the people taken from their homes and communities across southern Israel one month ago when Hamas launched its bloody terror attack. Israel says the Palestinian militant group killed more than 1,400 people in the assault and kidnapped 241, including soldiers, and civilians of all ages.

Five people — two Israelis and two U.S. nationals released by the group plus an Israeli soldier freed by her fellow troops — have come back home alive, but it's impossible to know the fate of the rest of the hostages. They're believed to have been taken by Hamas into the Gaza Strip, which the group has controlled for almost two decades and underneath which it has constructed an elaborate and well-equipped tunnel network.

Freed hostage, 85, says she "went through hell," describes Hamas kidnapping 07:33

Since the unprecedented Oct. 7 terror attack, Israel has pounded Gaza with relentless airstrikes and, over the last week, it has also waged a ground war — all, it insists, targeting Hamas. But officials in the Hamas-run Palestinian territory say more than 10,000 people have been killed in the densely-populated strip of land, including more than 4,300 children and, they say, dozens of the hostages.  

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to consider any cease-fire until all the hostages are returned.

But even as the bombs keep falling on Gaza and any talk of a truce seems far off on the horizon, the families of the missing in Israel have managed to cling to hope — tinged, increasingly, with anger at their own government.

For Irish national Thomas Hand, who's 8-year-old daughter Emily Hand is believed to be among the hostages, there initially wasn't any hope at all, only resignation.

Emily Hand is seen in a file family photo.

One month ago, Hamas militants stormed Kibbutz Be'eri, the community just several miles from the Gaza border where he lives. They killed more than 100 people, and Thomas Hand got the worst news a parent could get: Emily, who was at a sleepover at a friend's house on the kibbutz, had died.

He told CBS News that, given the alternative of her being a Hamas hostage, news of his daughter's apparent death from Israeli authorities even brought him some relief, knowing that "hopefully, [it] would have been quick and painless. No torture. No terror… It was over."

Hand accepted that his little girl, whom he said loves to dance and sing, was gone. But three weeks later, there was new information: The Israeli military said Emily was likely alive, and in Hamas' hands.

Emily Hand, 8, is seen with her father Thomas Hand in a family photo. Courtesy of Thomas Hand

The father said his first thought was, "God, No. You know, I'd already started grieving… and then I had to go back into the nightmare of not knowing exactly where she is, what she's going through, what she's suffering."

Forensics teams poring over the gruesome remnants of the massacre at the kibbutz found no DNA evidence of Emily's death.

Israeli military releases chilling video of Hamas hunting down kibbutz victims 03:27

Now, a month after Hamas stormed through his community, likely taking his daughter and the friend she was enjoying a sleepover with, Hand told CBS News his family was just "praying for her to be released… Whether in one piece or broken. We just want to hug her, kiss her, look after her, bring her back to mental, physical health."

Emily is one of at least three dozen children believed to have been taken by Hamas. The youngest was nine-month-old Kfir Silberman-Bibas, seized along with his mom and three-year-old brother Ariel.

Erez Kalderon is also still missing. He will have turned 12 in captivity.

Their families and supporters are demanding that Israel's government and military "bring them home" at demonstrations and protests across the country. There are peaceful solidarity rallies, but as the military continues pounding Gaza with bombs — putting not only Palestinian civilians, but their own loved ones in potential danger — many of the hostages' families are also voicing increasing anger at the Netanyahu government.

Protest near Israeli PM Netanyahu's residence, in Jerusalem
Protesters demonstrate against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near his residence, as the conflict between Israel and Hamas continues, in Jerusalem, Nov. 4, 2023. AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS

Dozens of angry protesters gathered outside his official residence over the weekend, chanting demands for the veteran politician to step down.

Thomas Hand told CBS News that the only thing keeping him going was "pure hope. Just pure hope that one day she'll be released and back in our arms."

Asked what message he would like to deliver to Hamas, the father said he would urge them to "have some kind of humanity. Somewhere deep inside you. At least let the children go. At least let the children go."

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