B’Ivrit | Desperate for Some Good News, Israelis Cling to Heroic Hostage Rescue Story

By | Jun 10, 2024
B'ivrit 6.10.24

Does the ongoing Gaza war and the broader conflict look different through the eyes of Israeli readers? How does Israeli media cover U.S. affairs? There’s a lot to learn about Israel by looking through Hebrew language newspapers, news websites and TV channels. Welcome to Moments new column, “B’Ivrit: Moment’s Hebrew Language Media Roundup,” a look at the news through the eyes of Israeli media consumers.

1. Tears of joy

Arad Nir has been in this business for decades. A veteran foreign news editor and Channel 12 TV anchor, Nir was assigned the Saturday afternoon shift on what was supposed to be a relatively quiet news day. Minutes into his show, a report came in about the rescue of four hostages in a military operation carried out by special units in the heart of Gaza. 

Nir could not hold back his tears. “It’s hard to overcome the feelings,” he said, choking up in front of the camera. Seconds later, after a brief video showing Yaacov Argamani hearing the news that his kidnapped daughter Noa was on her way home, the broadcast went back to the studio where both Arad Nir and Nir Dvori, the network’s military affairs reporters, were wiping away tears, trying to continue with the breaking news while overwhelmed with emotion.

And with their tears, an entire nation, so it seemed, wept with joy. 

For a moment, the third wall was broken. TV personalities were revealed as what they really are—Israeli citizens who, just like their neighbors, friends and family members, are heartbroken and are grasping at any possible sign of hope for a better outcome after eight months of trauma and war.

The rescue of 26-year-old Noa Argamani, Almog Meir Jan (22), Andrey Kozlov (27) and Shlomi Ziv (41) immediately took over the news cycle. Israelis, who at times of war still cling to TV networks as their main news source, followed every move of the four former hostages. From their dismount from the helicopters that carried them out of Gaza, through their initial steps at the hospital in the center of Israel, and to video clips provided to the media of the first moment the four reunited with their loved ones.  

2. Setting an optimistic narrative

For a moment, as commentators noted, Israel was once again the place its citizens believed themselves to be living in before October 7, 2023: a tight-knit nation made up of people who genuinely care about each other, who feel the other’s pain as their own, who rejoice when four Israelis they have never even met are back in the arms of their families. 

On days like these, print media still plays an important role, serving as the lasting historical document of a nation’s significant moments. Israelis woke up on Sunday to newsstands stacked with dailies that rolled out their most festive layouts.

Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s largest centrist newspaper, went with a one-word headline: “Home.” Dominating the front page was a photo, that has already become iconic, of Noa Argamni’s first hug with her father. The caption read: Shehecheyanu—the Jewish prayer of gratitude. 

Israel Hayom, a popular right-leaning daily distributed for free, went with the exact same headline and photo. Both papers ran smaller pictures of the three other freed hostages: Almog, Shlomi and Andrey on the front page as well. 

Maariv, considered a centrist daily, devoted its cover to four equal-sized photos of the released hostages. As a headline, editors at Maariv chose a line from a famous Israeli song: “It’s so good to have you home.” 

Haaretz, Israel’s liberal broadsheet, lived up to its reputation and stuck with a proper headline and layout, not allowing emotions to overcome the publication’s editorial traditions. “Security forces rescued four hostages alive from Gaza,” the headline read dryly, above a photo of Noa with her father and of the three other released hostages back in Israel.

Whether the Israeli media set the tone for the public or simply followed the popular sentiment, it was clear that these headlines provided an accurate reflection of the current Israeli mood: A license to be happy, to forget, even if only for a brief moment, about the ongoing war, the soldiers on the frontlines, the remaining hostages, displaced citizens and of families devastated by loss. 

3. Big questions? There will be time for that.

At any other time, these headlines and dramatic newscasts on TV networks would have been rightly frowned upon. The Israeli media chose the role of a national cheerleader whose goal is to unite a broken nation and uplift its spirit, setting aside journalistic causes such as digging for truth and questioning power. This time, however, it may be forgiven. Israelis were, and still are, clearly in need of a new narrative and an optimistic storyline, and that is what the media provided with the extensive coverage of the hostage rescue.

And still, some of the key questions raised by this military operation remain unattended to by the press: 

First, and most obvious, is the issue that has been playing out in the international press but has hardly been mentioned in Israel: the heavy death toll of Palestinian civilians during the rescue operation. Israelis have shown very little interest in casualties on the other side throughout the war and the Israeli media has been more than happy to follow their lead and all but ignore the issue. 

Then there’s the strategic question posed by the dramatic rescue: Is it a sign that military operations are effective in rescuing hostages and that Israel should stick to its current course and continue the war, or is the safe return of four hostages out of 124 after eight months in captivity a reminder of the fact that military operations are very limited in their ability to release hostages and that it’s time to sign a deal and end the war?


The media touched on this issue only briefly, and—as expected—the response depended on the political viewpoint of the news media outlet you trust.

Channel 14, whose TV studios can easily be mistaken for a Netanyahu fan club, tried to drive home the first option. “The heroic rescue proves: Hostage release will be achieved only by military pressure,” read a headline on the network’s homepage. The article then went on to state that “Only with fierce fighting against Hamas terrorists, and only by having our forces enter every part of the Gaza Strip and continuing the war as long as needed, will we bring about the release of all hostages from the Hamas vicious captivity.”  

But the centrist and left-leaning media outlets amplified voices of those who believe that this emotional moment should serve as a reminder of just how important it is to get all hostages back home now by agreeing to a deal. An op-ed published in Haaretz on Sunday by Gil Dickman, whose cousin Carmel Gat is held in captivity in Gaza, noted that “Rescue operations are the exception. The rule is that hostages are returned through negotiated deals.” 

But at least for now, this debate has taken a back seat, while the Israeli media remains focused on celebrating the release of Noa, Almog, Andrey and Shlomi.

4. News Jews can use

What happens when dramatic news breaks on Shabbat? 

In Israel, a country where breaking news is almost a daily occurrence, Orthodox Jews have learned to wait until the end of the Sabbath before turning on their devices and catching up on events of the past day.

But this weekend was different. Secular Israelis were eager to share the exciting news of the hostage rescue operation with their Shabbat-observant friends and neighbors, who—disconnected from all media sources—were unaware of the drama. And to do so, they resorted to perhaps one of the oldest forms of social media: hanging a handwritten note in the apartment building’s lobby. “To our Shabbat observing neighbors: Four hostages were rescued alive, Shabbat Shalom” read a note posted in one of the buildings. Another carried a similar message, signing with “Am Yisrael Chai,” Hebrew for “the people of Israel will live.”

Some even went back further: A social media user posted a story about her observant husband who was walking home from synagogue on Saturday. A car pulled by next to him and the secular driver turned to him and said: “I just had to share with you to know that four hostages were released.”

Not all Orthodox Jews, by the way, viewed this gesture favorably. Some posted that by having a secular Jew write on Shabbat, even if only to inform his observant neighbors of some good news, they are committing a sin.

5. Meanwhile, in another world

The ultra-Orthodox community in Israel consumes much of its information from its own communal newspapers and from dedicated websites and WhatsApp groups. And so while most of the Israeli press has been focused almost exclusively on the Gaza war, the hostage situation, and the tensions along Israel’s northern border, the haredi papers directed their spotlight at other dangers and concerns: “An awful assault against the Torah world in two fronts,” warned Hapeles, a daily newspaper serving one of the haredi factions. “Supreme Court justices and the Netanyahu coalition are threatening to advance the destruction decrees.” These “decrees,” which the paper warned against in one of last week’s headlines, are measures aimed at expanding the draft so that ultra-Orthodox men will have to serve in the military, just like any other Israeli. Yated Neeman, the largest haredi newspaper, also took on the issue, tying the community’s battle against mandatory conscription to Israel’s battle against Hamas. “In addition to the dangerous war waged by the enemies surrounding us, we are now faced with the war of the Supreme Court against the Torah students, and for this war, we need the help of God.”

Decisions, both in court and in the Knesset regarding haredi draft initiatives, are expected this week.

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