columnIsrael at War

Sunflowers and bad news

Languishing in blissful ignorance is no longer an option—or of any interest.

A field of sunflowers in the Gaza Envelope in southern Israel, May 17, 2024. Photo by Alon Blum.
A field of sunflowers in the Gaza Envelope in southern Israel, May 17, 2024. Photo by Alon Blum.
Ruthie Blum. Photo by Ariel Jerozolomski.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, former adviser at the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is an award-winning columnist and senior contributing editor at JNS, as well as co-host, with Amb. Mark Regev, of "Israel Undiplomatic" on JNS-TV. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, and on U.S.-Israel relations. Originally from New York City, she moved to Israel in 1977 and is based in Tel Aviv.

Friday afternoon. Gordon Beach in Tel Aviv. Less crowded than last year at this time. Fewer tourists.

It’s the fault of the war. Airline cancellations and El Al price hikes didn’t help.

Still, rows of chaises with tanning nymphets are packed. So is the water. The Mediterranean is calm. No black flags warning of undertow. Kids splash around. Parents play paddle ball.

Tattooed waiters bustle back and forth, carrying trays with iced coffee and watermelon. Couples seated at low tables bury their feet in the sand, talking about nothing in particular.

A hang-glider flies overhead. It’s startling for a second—reminiscent of Hamas’s infiltration on Oct. 7.

My phone vibrates with an incoming message from my son. It’s a photo of a field of sunflowers in the Gaza envelope. He stopped to snap it on his way back to the front. Beauty before battle.

The Home Front Command app informs of incoming rockets in the south: Sderot, Nir Am and elsewhere. Then drones along the “confrontation line” separating Israel from Lebanon: Dalton, Rehaniya, Kerem Ben Zimra. Afterwards, Kadita in the Upper Galilee. Again, the confrontation line: Daphna, Kibbutz Dan, Hagoshrim, She’ar Yeshuv, Snir.

Katzrin in the southern Golan Heights and Ma’ayan Baruch on the confrontation line are also in the crosshairs. More barrages in the Upper Galilee—in Gadot and back to Katzrin. A repeat performance at the confrontation line: Misgav Am, Kiryat Shmona … the list of Hezbollah’s targets goes on.

But no sirens here in Tel Aviv. It’s been more than two months since the last time the White City was hit with Hamas projectiles, forcing residents to run for cover.

So routine resumes. Until it’s interrupted, which it always is, by the latest headlines. When we tune in to them, that is.

Bathers collect their belongings. Shabbat dinner preparations await. A baby cries.

Normal under other circumstances. But not when remembering the sight of 9-month-old Kfir Bibas and his 4-year-old brother, Ariel, being hauled off by Hamas terrorists in the arms of their terrified mother, Shiri, on that Black Sabbath.

Social media summons. Rumors run rampant about other hostages. Reports of an imminent emergency briefing by Israel Defense Forces Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

Languishing in temporary blissful ignorance is no longer an option—or of any interest. Time to return to the reality that is our nightmare.

Hagari’s statement cuts into regular programming. “The bodies of the hostages [56-year-old] Yitzhak Gelernter, [23-year-old] Shani Louk and [27-year-old] Amit Buskila were rescued overnight during a joint IDF and Shin Bet operation,” he declares. “Based on verified intelligence in our possession, [the three Israelis] were murdered during the Oct. 7 massacre at the Mefalsim Intersection, and their bodies were abducted to Gaza.”

The pinpointing of their location, he explains, was made possible through precise Shin Bet intelligence “obtained during the interrogations of terrorists apprehended in Gaza, as well as that from IDF Intelligence Directorate’s Headquarters for the Hostages and Missing Persons.”

He goes on: “Following an identification procedure carried out by medical officials at the Israeli National Forensic Institute and the Ministry of Health, IDF representatives notified their families, [to whom] the IDF and Shin Bet send their heartfelt condolences.”

He admonishes the public—and not for the first time—to “refrain from spreading unfounded rumors and fake news, and to listen to official announcements,” adding that “the IDF and Shin Bet are continuing, even at this time, to deploy all operational and intelligence means and to take operational risks in order to accomplish the supreme national task of bringing back all the hostages.”

Louk is the only one of the three already known to be dead. She became an unwitting symbol of Hamas sadism when the Associated Press published a picture of her in the back of a pickup truck full of terrorists—resting their legs on her lifeless, half-naked body—celebrating their “spoils.”

The University of Missouri’s Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute subsequently granted its “Photo of the Year” award to Ali Mahmud, who provided the image to AP.

The country is reeling from the revelation. Yet it is followed by a related tragedy: 20-year-old Sgt. Ben Avishay from Nahariya has fallen in northern Gaza, bringing today’s total of soldiers killed since Oct. 7 to 628.

No word from my son.

Dozens more missiles in the north, along with the personal stories of Gelernter, Louk and Buskila. At least they will now have a proper burial at home in Israel. It’s of small comfort to the families of the remaining 129 captives, most of whom have no idea whether their loved ones are even alive.

Friday night. Variety and comedy shows proceed on TV as scheduled. Commercials for chocolate bars and streaming services reverberate, as though from another universe—the one in which music continues to emanate from pubs an hour-and-a-half’s drive, in either direction, from enemies bent on our annihilation.

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