I was at the beach in Tel Aviv when the lifeguard broke the news. We cheered and wept for the liberation of strangers. Jessica Kasmer-Jacobs for The Free Press.
Noa Argamani embraces her father after being liberated from Hamas captivity in Gaza. (Reuters/Redux)

When Hostages Come Home

I was at the beach in Tel Aviv when the lifeguard broke the news. We cheered and wept for the liberation of strangers that feel like family.

On midday Saturday in Tel Aviv, my husband and I were sitting on the beach with our 2-year-old son when the lifeguard’s voice came over the loudspeaker. “Attention, citizens of Tel Aviv! We are thrilled to announce that four hostages have been rescued by the Israel Defense Forces alive! Noa Argamani, Andrey Kozlov, Almog Meir Jan, and Shlomi Ziv! Am Yisrael Chai!” 

The cheers were immediate and ecstatic. People threw their children into the air. Strangers hugged strangers. Many openly wept. The clapping and singing and dancing spread all the way down the beach. 

Similar scenes erupted all over Israel. Also in Poland. In Greece. In Australia. And in Jewish communities around the world.

Because it was Saturday, secular Israelis posted handwritten notes with the announcement and the names of the rescued hostages around religious neighborhoods to update their neighbors who observe the Sabbath and wouldn’t have been checking their phones or watching TV. 

News anchors broke down in tears. Neighbors shouted out of their windows to announce the news to passersby on their way home from synagogue. The families of the rescued were rushed to the hospital to receive their loved ones, but in the towns where they lived, groups gathered around their homes with flags, waiting to welcome their neighbors home after eight months in captivity. 

Pundits on CNN talked about the “released” hostages. But they were not released. They were liberated. They were saved in a daring daylight operation, the details of which are still emerging. 

Screenshot of a video of Noa Argamani being abducted from the Nova music festival. (via X)

What we know is that officers from the elite Yamam counterterrorism unit, along with Shin Bet agents, raided two Hamas-controlled multistory buildings in Nuseirat in central Gaza. Two separate teams were dispatched, under cover, to each location: one to the apartment where Noa Argamani, 26, was being held, and the other to a building about 200 meters away, where Hamas was holding Almog Meir Jan, 22, Andrey Kozlov, 27, and Shlomi Ziv, 41. 

The two teams worked simultaneously to extract the hostages, for fear that the noise from one operation would set off an alert about the other. The team that rescued Noa was able to neutralize the Hamas guards in the home of the Palestinian family who had been keeping her captive and get her out to the extraction point by the sea on the other side of Nuseirat. The second team ran into trouble, and the resulting firefight drew the attention of Hamas operatives in the area as they tried to get the hostages out. The rescue team went through three vehicles trying to escape with the three male hostages: the first truck took too much gunfire, the second armored vehicle broke down after being hit, and the third finally cleared the team and the hostages to the beach. 

But that team’s commander, Arnon Zamora, was critically wounded when he burst into the apartment holding the three male hostages, and later died of his wounds. Zamora, a 36-year-old father of two, has been fighting in this war since October 7, when he led a battle against Hamas terrorists near the community of Yad Mordechai by the Gaza Strip, preventing them from entering that kibbutz. Even after that battle was won, he moved on to fight at the Nahal Oz army base and then to Kibbutz Be’eri, two sites of the most violent attacks during the massacre. 

This past Memorial Day in Israel, Zamora sent a message of encouragement to his team and then immediately texted all their wives as well: “We wouldn’t be able to tie our shoes without you. You are the ones who sacrifice, you are the ones who solve our problems and you are the ones who support us when we fall. I love you too.” 

The rescue mission was originally named Seeds of Summer. By sundown in Israel it had been renamed Operation Arnon to honor his memory. 

It’s hard to describe what it is like to be Israeli after October 7. 

Around the world we are condemned for a war we did not start and did not seek. Even the rescue mission is spun in the press as Israeli overreaction, and one BBC commentator asked an IDF spokesperson whether the Israeli military should have warned the neighborhood in advance of. . . a sting operation. 

Meantime, at home, we are uncertain. Uncertain about how this ever could have happened—and about the leaders who allowed it to. Especially our prime minister, who has refused to take responsibility for the massive failure that occurred that terrible day. It was stark, then, on Saturday, when Netanyahu showed up to be embraced by the success of the rescue mission but has not reached out to any of the families of the dozens of hostages who were killed in captivity.

By the end of the weekend, Benny Gantz and his party withdrew from the wartime coalition government and called for early elections. “Netanyahu prevents us from getting a real victory,” he said. “This is why we are leaving the government with a heavy heart but a full heart.”

All of this is happening as the unofficial war at Israel’s northern border heats up with constant rocket barrages fired by Hezbollah. Every young mother in my apartment building—I am one of them—has a husband who will most likely get called up to serve, again, against an enemy far mightier than the one we’ve faced in Gaza. When will that happen? We don’t know. We cannot sleep from the worry.

But if there is one thing we are certain of, it is this: we live in a country of heroes. We live in a country in which strangers feel like family. A country in which other men and women will sacrifice their lives to liberate us, to bring us home.

In this case, it took 246 days.

Noa Argmani’s mother has terminal brain cancer. Her dying wish was to see her daughter, who arrived at her hospital bedside that very afternoon. Almog Meir Jan’s father died hours before Almog was liberated, apparently of a broken heart. Arnon Zamora was buried on Sunday in Jerusalem, and thousands lined the streets. At the funeral, Aviram Meir, the uncle of rescued hostage Almog Meir Jan, addressed the Zamora family: “The blood of your children is mixed with ours. This is an unbreakable bond.”

One hundred and twenty hostages remain captive in Gaza. 

Jessica Kasmer-Jacobs is a literary agent at the Deborah Harris Agency. Follow her on X.
This piece has been updated with news of Benny Gantz’s withdrawal from the wartime government.

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