- - Thursday, July 17, 2014

There is nowhere left for us to go. Israelis from Eilat to Haifa have heard the red alerts blast as Hamas has indiscriminately launched more than one thousand rockets at our cities over the last few weeks. Israelis throughout the entire country have had to stop, run and hide, as the threat of terrorism has unacceptably become a part of our daily lives.

But the most dangerous weapon in Gaza is not what most would expect—it’s not the M-302 rockets that have put millions of Israelis under the direct threat of terror.  Instead, it is the vicious ideology of Hamas that is focused on Israel’s destruction and a culture that has been entrenched in Palestinian society for generations that is the biggest threat to all.

Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly Palestinians who are open to peaceful solutions. But the truth is that these voices are drowned out by extremists, and the stranglehold that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terror organizations have over the Palestinian people prevents peace from being attained.

Just look at what happened on this week.

With international support, Israel accepted Egypt’s proposed ceasefire, which would have restored quiet by halting all rocket attacks from Gaza and Israel’s responses. This ceasefire would have allowed for at least a temporary calm, and could have opened the door once again for a peaceful diplomatic solution.

But Hamas, which controls Gaza, rejected the ceasefire, as a senior Hamas spokesperson called it, “a joke” in an interview with CNN. Hamas continued its assault on Israel, firing approximately 50 rockets on our cities in a six-hour span as Israel stayed true to the ceasefire and withheld responding. Even today, when the international community called for a five-hour humanitarian ceasefire so that necessary resources could be replenished for the people of Gaza, Hamas fired three mortars into Israel and sent 13 terrorist through underground tunnels to attack Israeli civilians. Luckily, Israel was able to thwart this attack.  But this is just further evidence that Hamas continues to perpetrate the suffering of their own people.

We in Israel have taken the steps to show that we are ready for peace, but no country can sit idly by while its civilian population is subjected to terrorist rocket fire. There is nothing to joke about when it comes to saving lives and preventing violence and terror. Israel’s goal with the proposed ceasefires was to restore quiet. But Hamas does not want quiet, so we had no choice but to resume Operation Protective Edge.

Unfortunately, this is what we have come to expect from Hamas. The Palestinian Authority has been unable to address such radical terrorist elements within Palestinian society, and instead PA President Mahmoud Abbas has embraced them and formed a unity government with Hamas. This has afforded Hamas the opportunity to cause this latest escalation of violence and push our peoples further and further away from peace.

Hamas is an internationally recognized terrorist organization that does not have the best interest of its own people in mind, and one that is driven by a hatred of Israel and the Jewish people—not a fight for land or statehood.

When Israel withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip in 2005, we gave the Palestinians the key to their future, as well as sovereignty over what could end up being a future Palestinian state. Hamas took over as the ruling Palestinian body in Gaza, and instead of providing for its people have kept its sole focus on increasing its weapons stock and terror capabilities.

Hamas uses thick walls of cement to create and protect an elaborate underground tunnel system that has been used to infiltrate Israel and commit acts of terror against our civilians, just as they tried to today. Hamas could have improved roads or built homes and businesses or even bomb shelters for Gaza residents, but instead it chose to turn Gaza into a haven for terrorists while ignoring what is best for its own people.

What’s worse is the way Hamas regularly exposes civilian lives in Gaza for the sake of propaganda.

Hamas intentionally stores its rocket launching pads in residential areas and within private homes and public buildings such as hospitals, schools and mosques. Israel has defended itself in the most humane fashion possible. We have used leaflets, personal phone calls, warning shots and widespread announcements that have been publicized internationally, asking Gazans for the sake of their own lives to evacuate certain areas before we try to eliminate terrorists and their units. But Hamas’ “Interior Ministry” has cynically instructed Gazans to ignore these warnings, and has encouraged their people to act as human shields. Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri told the terror organization’s al-Aqsa TV network last week that instructing people to serve as human shields was an, “effective policy,” and one that, “reflects the character of our brave, courageous people.” He continued by blatantly stating, “We in Hamas call upon our people to adopt this policy.”

The Palestinian people need to reject Hamas, and rid their society of this evil. In Israel, we understand that our enemies are not the residents of Gaza, but the terrorist organizations that rule it and attack our civilians. Simply put, this is a fight against terror.

Hamas has made it clear that its main objective is the destruction of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. The Palestinian people must recognize this, and choose peace over terror, and coexistence over hatred.

Ambassador Ido Aharoni is the Consul General of Israel in New York.