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I woke up in Israel to war. I am living in a nightmare

A man inspects the damage in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon after a rocket attack from Gaza on October 9, 2023. Israel relentlessly pounded the Gaza Strip overnight and into October 9 as fighting with Hamas continued around the Gaza Strip, as the death toll from the war against the Palestinian militants surged above 1,100.
A man inspects the damage in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon after a rocket attack from Gaza on October 9, 2023. Israel relentlessly pounded the Gaza Strip overnight and into October 9 as fighting with Hamas continued around the Gaza Strip, as the death toll from the war against the Palestinian militants surged above 1,100. | MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images

It’s been hard to write this, not just because of what’s going on in Israel but because I have had a hard time pulling myself away from the live and virtually uninterrupted TV reports here of what’s going on. 

Two days ago we woke up to war. But I feel like I am living in a nightmare. I haven’t felt this paralyzed and nervous since 9/11. That says a lot because we have had more than our share of military operations here.  But something is different this time.

Like 9/11, yesterday’s attack was a surprise. But it shouldn’t have been. It was perpetrated by the same evil Islamist ideology as that sunny day 22 years ago that saw nearly 3,000 perish. Three thousand in a country of more than 300 million. 

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Yesterday, more than 600 Israelis were murdered. In many cases in cold blood. Civilians. Innocent men, women, and children. Many were executed in the streets.

Armed Islamic terrorists from Gaza bulldozed the border, infiltrated Israel, broke into people’s homes, and murdered entire families. Dozens or more have been taken hostage, including foreign workers, young children, and elderly adults, in Gaza.

Should there be any doubt, just look at the terrorists' own social media.  Not only did they commit all these crimes, but they also filmed it, they celebrated it, and they documented it for all the world to see how they sanctify their god, Allah, through their evil hatred. Even the Nazis had some shame and hid their crimes.

Beginning at 6:20 a.m., they shot thousands of rockets into Israel to terrify the population, and no doubt provide early cover for their infiltration by land, sea, and air. Doing so, they not only violated Israel’s territorial integrity, and any sense of humanity, they violated the sanctity of Shabbat, the sabbath, the day of rest, and one of our joyous holidays. Just like the Egyptian and Syrian surprise attack 50 years and one day earlier, on our most holy day, these evil Islamic terrorists calculated and planned to catch us unprepared. 

I overslept and was jolted out of bed at 9:00 a.m. when the first of several air raid sirens in our community sent us scurrying for cover in our bomb shelter. Yes, all Israeli homes are built with bomb shelters. As it was Shabbat, we were offline. No phones, no internet, no radio. So, we had no idea what had been going on for three hours as we sat in the dark room, the window covered by a steel shutter. All we knew was it was bad because even though Hamas has used rockets before that can reach Jerusalem and the Judean Mountain community south of Jerusalem where we live, it’s rare.

The military call-up has been massive. We speculated that my son-in-law had already been called up into reserves. We saw from our apartment a level of traffic many times that which we would ever have on Shabbat when we also don’t use our cars. We saw young men in uniform driving, hitching rides with others. Then at 4:00 pm, our son came home. He had been called up and came to get his uniform and equipment.  

Thankfully, for the moment at least, much of the world also recognizes that we are in the right and Hamas is on the wrong side. But as surely as I am breathing, as soon as there are significant casualties in Gaza, and if anyone else dares to open another front as Hezbollah in Lebanon has been testing, I fear that right and wrong, the black and white, will become clouded with moral equivalence. Calls for restraint “on both sides” will soon resound from the media and political elites.

For the time being, President Biden has said all the right things. He could have been stronger. He could have called out the inhumanity, the war crime, of deliberately targeting and kidnapping civilians. He could have said more.  But what he said was good. The problem is that the terrorists don’t care what he and others say, just what they do. They saw the recent Iran ransom deal, pumping $6 billion into the coffers of the Iranian Islamist regime, as a license to do the same.

Hamas is learning well from their Iranian masters, now with dozens or more Israeli hostages on top of two other Israelis, and the remains of two soldiers they’ve held for ransom for years as well. Someone in the White House needs to have a serious come to Jesus moment if they don’t realize that these are all the same evil Islamists, and emboldening one breathes life into the other.

Most Israelis like me do not seek wanton destruction in Gaza, or anywhere else. But yesterday, and what’s coming, was a bitter pill to swallow. Hamas leaders hide in underground bunkers. The problem is that they place their bunkers under hospitals and in civilian areas, knowing that the IDF is in fact a moral army and won’t wantonly bomb them, even if they deserve it.

In parallel to a punishing military operation, Israel has already cut off electricity and fuel to Gaza (that’s right, as good neighbors we provide the power for Hamas to build its weapons and bunkers). That’s a start. We must cease the delivery through any Israeli port or border crossing of anything. Not even a roll of toilet paper. We must cut off any boats going out, much less coming back in. This is war, and while Judaism has clear rules about going to war, there is no room for empowering or emboldening the terrorists one bit.  

Admittedly, there’s anger in my words.  As much as I want the terrorists to pay a heavy price, and as much as I don’t want my son or any other Israeli soldier having to go into Gaza to root out the terrorists (and free our hostages) by putting their own lives at risk, we need to do whatever needs to be done to restore deterrence. It needs to be done in such a way that nobody will ever think, for a very long time, about raising a hand against Israel.

Maybe, just maybe, if Gazans suffer enough, they will realize that it’s not Israel that is the problem but being held hostage by Hamas/Iran is. Maybe they will do something to take back their prime coastal real estate and build a society with a future, not one that exists to destroy ours. Alas, I dream again.

Pray for Israel’s swift military victory. Pray for the soldiers. Pray for the return of every Israeli hostage. Pray for the families of the hostages and those murdered. Pray that as deeply as all of this hurts, Israel will restore deterrence, be victorious and that we will heal and continue to thrive.

Jonathan Feldstein is President and CEO of the Genesis 123 Foundation and

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