Since Israel's disengagement from Gaza in 2005, Hamas and its affiliates have fired nearly 7,000 rockets and mortars from Gaza toward Israeli population centers. More than 3,000 were fired in 2008.
The Israelis left intact high-tech hothouses and other small businesses. Instead of engaging in state building, Hamas wantonly destroyed the businesses, hothouses and homes and dedicated its resources, including international aid, toward terrorizing southern Israel. Today, Grad rockets provided by Iran reach Kiryat Gat, Ashdod and Be'er Sheva, 28 miles from the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, leaders in Egypt and Jordan and in the international community joined Israel in appeals to Hamas to stop firing rockets on Israel. During the six-month ceasefire, Hamas used the time to rearm and increase the quantity, quality and range of its weapons, now putting the lives of 1 million Israelis at risk.
Possibilities for reconciliation suffered a setback when Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority from the Gaza Strip by force, and rejected former agreements.
Israel is not attacking the Palestinian people; it is attacking the Hamas infrastructure and terrorist installations to bring an end to the attacks on all Israeli citizens: Jews, Muslims, Christians and others. Ironically, the situation in Gaza contrasts sharply with that in the West Bank, where real progress has been made in security and development.
HAMAS IS A terror organization that disregards international law. The Red Cross and other international bodies have full access to Palestinian detainees in Israel. For over two years no Red Cross or other official has visited captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
The Geneva Convention clearly states that if a missile launcher or weapons stockpile is placed amongst a civilian population, the party that put the civilians at risk is responsible for their welfare. Yet, Hamas continues to use women, children and the elderly as shields and their homes as weapons caches and rocket launching sites.
When innocent civilians become victims it is a profound tragedy, especially when they are pawns in a deadly cynical strategy.
In the past few years Israel sent in 14,624 truckloads of humanitarian assistance and 185,000 tons of supplies and 39 million liters of fuel to the people who were bombing its citizens. Hamas kept most of the supplies for itself, creating false emergencies every few weeks. On Dec. 28 Israel shipped four truckloads of flour, three of medicines and medical equipment and one of heating gas. It also facilitated the delivery of more than 15 truckloads from the U.N. relief program, the World Food program and the Red Cross.
More than 4,000 medical evacuations have taken place from Gaza into Israeli hospitals. Israel even sent text messages and leaflets to the Gaza Strip civilians, warning of an imminent attack.
Israel is making every effort to avert a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. Let us not forget the humanitarian crisis occurring in southern Israel, an area traumatized by terror. Barrages of deadly rockets, indiscriminately aimed at civilians, pound the towns of Sderot and Ashkelon, and now have a range of almost 30 miles. When the alarm goes off signaling a rocket attack, civilians in Sderot have only 10 seconds to find shelter. In Ashdod, they have 40 seconds.
WHAT IF YOU are asleep? Or your children are outside playing? Or your spouse is waiting at a bus stop to catch a bus for home? What if there is an alarm, not just once or twice a day, but over and over and over again? What would you do? How do you plan your day, or a wedding or even a burial? How do you cope with a traumatized child when you, yourself, are traumatized?
Israel is deeply concerned about the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians. To achieve peace and put an end to suffering, terrorists will have to lay down their weapons, recognize Israel and negotiate a two-state solution -- two peoples living side by side in peace and security.
Israel has already demonstrated that she will embrace any genuine opportunity to achieve peace with her neighbors.
Until that time, Israel has a moral right and responsibility to defend her citizens, as does any nation under attack. If border towns in the United States experienced a barrage of 100 rockets a day, how long do you think it would take to end the threat? Israel has shown remarkable restraint since Hamas took power. It is time to end the threat. It is time to stop the terror.
(The writer is executive director of the Augusta Jewish Federation and AJCC in Evans.)