‘I knew I had to get back as soon as possible’: Why this Canadian-based Israeli hurried back home to fight in the war

'I couldn’t sit any longer and watch the horror'

An Israel soldier gestures to passers-by as he drives a military vehicle near the border between Israel and Gaza Strip, Israel, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023. Francisco Seco/AP Photo.

Tal Toubiana, a Canadian-based Israeli who works as a security consultant, returned to Israel for military service following Hamas’s terrorist attacks against Israel on October 7. Toubiana will join thousands of his fellow Israelis who are returning home as the country calls up 360,000 army reservists.

The Hub exchanged with him via email to understand what caused him to return to Israel, the logistics of returning there, and what he thinks Canadians ought to know about the attacks and the impending war.

SEAN SPEER: A lot of people were seeking to leave the region following Hamas’s terrorist attacks against Israel. You did the opposite: You left Canada to return to Israel to report for military service. Take us back to your decision. What was your thought process and what did your loved ones think when you told them?

TAL TOUBIANA: I was at home (Ottawa) and all of a sudden a flood of messages came through on my different chat groups. Working in the security field for most of my career, I realized this is bigger than it looks. Given there was no shortage of footage available by Hamas-ISIS on social media, there was no doubt Israel was experiencing one of its worst attacks ever. Watching children and women being taken into Gaza while others less fortunate were raped, mutilated, and burned alive, I knew I had to get back as soon as possible.

Obviously, my family was scared but they knew this is very important to me. I couldn’t sit any longer and watch the horror while my brothers in arms are on the ground risking their lives to restore peace and save precious life.

We did, however, keep some details from the kids and instead said that I had to go back home to help my mother who lives in Ashdod, a city that is within the Hamas missile range and has been continuously bombarded.

SEAN SPEER: Help our readers understand the basic logistics of returning to Israel to report for military service. Who do you speak to and where do you go? Do you report to a military depot? What are the first 24-48 hours like?

TAL TOUBIANA: We have a WhatsApp group and this is where I learned that my unit was deployed. Since all but El Al Israel Airlines seized their flights to Israel there weren’t too many options available. I had to get to JFK as soon as possible and from there I boarded a flight to Athens. The last leg of my journey between Athens and Ben Gurion airport was on an Israeli Air Force C-130. 

Upon arrival, I immediately contacted my commanding officer (CO), to get some more details. At this point, my unit was already in play. As for me, I had to report to our unit’s emergency depot where I received all my gear. 

I was there for several days for training that would test my capacity for fighting as much as anything I had done during my service. Close-quarter battle, different terrain training, weapons, combat medicine, and combat tactics.

SEAN SPEER: How long are you prepared to go for? What about your job and home in Canada?

TAL TOUBIANA: Drawing on my experience with recent campaigns, I’ve planned to be away for a month or so. 

I have a bit of flexibility on the job end and, recently, I’ve been developing a security initiative with a few partners and I’m grateful to have these guys by my side. As for home, despite my wife’s demanding career, she has shifted her schedule and does all the heavy lifting. I couldn’t be here without her support.

SEAN SPEER: As an outsider, it looks like Israelis are both shocked and devastated by the attacks, but they’re also united and committed to defending the country even if it involves a long and difficult war. Now that you’ve been there, what’s your sense of the morale in the country as a whole and within the military itself?

TAL TOUBIANA: It’s no secret that people are horrified beyond words at the unthinkable mass murders committed by Hamas inside our country, across a dreadfully unprotected southern Israel. 

Vast numbers of Israeli families have suffered the most unbearable of losses in the most terrible circumstances. Everybody I know has lost someone.

Others are in limbo, uncertain of the fates of those most dear to them, fearing, with reason, unconscionable horrors. The scale is unthinkable. Numbers on a page do not begin to convey the extent of our loss, the life after life, innocent, beautiful life, snuffed out, in unspeakable ways by monsters for the “crime” of being Jews and Israelis living in our country. 

In this tiny nation that has just suffered the worst blows in its modern existence, the people are pulling together and fighting back. Hundreds of thousands of reservists have been called up, but many, many more than that number have sought to report for service. While foreign governments evacuate their nationals, ours are flying home to serve.

SEAN SPEER: What do you want Canadians to know about the situation including the prospect of an impending war? What might they fail to see or understand as a result of being so far away from the region?

TAL TOUBIANA: I think most Canadians are not being exposed to media coverage that explains the extent and horror of the attacks on civilians in Israel. Children burned alive, women raped, people decapitated, hiding in shelters for days, being exposed to constant threat of attack. Israel is not promoting or sharing this content to protect its people, but in doing so the world does not see the atrocities that rained down on its people.

Furthermore, many do not know a lot about Hamas. Hamas does not seek peaceful coexistence with Israel; it wants to wipe all Israelis off the map. They are not protecting or serving in the best interests of Palestinians. They have planned these attacks for years, and built tunnels under civilian homes, Mosques, and hospitals. Hamas is a threat to Israel, but it is also the reason for Palestinian suffering. If we want suffering to end, we need to eradicate Hamas.

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