TEL AVIV—The United States started evacuating citizens from Israel late last week, forcing my wife and me to make a choice: Stay or go?
Leaving would not be easy. I moved to Israel from New York a decade ago, and my wife and four-year-old son have lived here most of their lives. We recently put a down payment on an apartment in the Tel Aviv suburb where my wife grew up. Last month, we bought curtains.
But family and friends in the United States have urged us to consider getting out while we still can. Israeli troops are poised to invade Gaza. Iran, which supports Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, is threatening to intervene in response to Israel's anticipated Gaza offensive.
We have been lucky so far. The terrorists overran both of the bases where my wife's 20-year-old sister usually serves, but she was at home for a holiday weekend during the attack. At one of them, where she teaches Hebrew to Bedouin volunteers, the terrorists killed nearly all of the soldiers on duty and scrawled the names of the absent commanders on the walls in blood.
Days later, terrorists who remained in the country ambushed my 24-year-old brother-in-law's commando unit, killing two of his best friends and wounding two others. My brother-in-law was still in Miami, where he lives and works as a fitness instructor.
We have been fortunate in other ways, too. It has been several days since I scooped up my son and rushed to our apartment's safe room in response to rocket sirens—even as ongoing barrages have forced at least 60,000 Israelis in border communities from their homes. Because I immigrated to Israel in my late 20s, too late in life for mandatory military service, I am not among the some 360,000 Israelis who have been called up for reserve duty. Unlike many women in our neighborhood, my pregnant wife does not have to worry about her husband while manning the home front.
But, like all Israelis, we know our luck could run out. The forces of evil surrounding us could at any moment break through and shatter our lives. My wife's sister and other members of the military's education battalion—young women who have not fired guns since basic training—have been ordered to return to their blood-soaked and bullet-riddled base for guard duty, though their parents have so far resisted sending them. While hundreds of Americans on Monday left Israel for Florida on a plane chartered by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.), my wife's brother plans to make the reverse voyage: He has asked U.S. immigration authorities for special permission to return to Israel to join the fighting, which appears to be escalating in the north and south.
Hamas has united Israelis in grief and rage, but conflict has been growing within the country, too. Few trust our leaders to find a way forward or even to keep the country safe. A recent public opinion poll found that four in five Jewish Israelis blame the government for Hamas's rampage. Cabinet members were heckled out of hospitals last week as they tried to visit the wounded.
"You've ruined this country. Get out of here," a doctor yelled at the environment minister.
Around the same time, my son and I navigated rocket sirens and security checkpoints to visit a local falafel restaurant. We sat down next to a stocky white-haired man who told us that he immigrated to Israel from Greece after World War II and is now the proud patriarch of a four-generation Israeli family.
"I fought in three wars for Israel. My sons fought in three wars for Israel," the man said. "Now, my grandsons are preparing to go into Gaza for a third time."
One day, my own son and unborn daughter will be called on to take up arms against those born and bred to hate them. I cannot say what the Israel they defend will look like.
Yet, as emails pile up in my inbox inviting me to evacuate on U.S.-government-chartered planes and ships, my family is staying put. In the end, it wasn't a hard decision. We are not prepared to abandon my in-laws, our neighbors, our friends—or Israel.
In some ways, there is no running away from this fight. The enemy is not just in Gaza or the Middle East. As my colleagues at the Washington Free Beacon documented, radical Muslims and left-wingers who call themselves "progressives" came together at the heights of American society—from Congress to corporate America to elite universities to left-wing activist groups—to excuse or celebrate Hamas’s atrocities.
Thirty-four Harvard University student groups issued a statement denouncing Israel as an "apartheid regime" and blaming the Jewish state "for all unfolding violence." Harvard's president then belatedly weighed in without directly criticizing Hamas or the student groups, before finally denouncing the terror attack under pressure from alumni.
Israel may have to fight this war against Hamas alone, but Hamas has also made all decent people our allies. I have been moved by the outpouring of concern I have received from old friends and acquaintances and heartened by the affirmations of Israel's right to self-defense from European capitals and the Biden administration.
As Israel's defense minister said this week alongside America's defense secretary: "This is a war on freedom and on our common values, and we are on the front line."
Andrew Tobin is deputy editor of the Washington Free Beacon.