The current Israel-Hamas conflict took form in 2001, when Hamas began to fire rockets from Gaza into southern Israel, not at military targets, but at random. They would often hit open fields, but as their capability improved, they began to hit Israeli kindergartens, colleges, restaurants and private homes. Seven years and 6,400 rockets later, after trying everything to avoid a major military operation, Israel decided to fight back.

Four years after the start of the rocket attacks from Gaza, Israel made its most dramatic attempt at peace. In 2005, Israel evacuated all Israeli citizens from Gaza, part of its historic homeland, in hope of creating goodwill on the Palestinian side and paving the way for an independent Palestinian state. Israel asked for nothing in return.

Unfortunately, the peaceful gesture did not work. Since the 2005 withdrawal, Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups increased the rocket attacks from Gaza. What the international community had hoped would be a thriving Palestinian democracy became a launching pad.

There was still hope for calm in June 2008, when Israel and Hamas struck an indirect agreement for a ceasefire. Unfortunately, Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups fired over 400 rockets and mortar shells during the last six weeks of the agreement. Then, after the ceasefire ended on Dec. 19, Hamas fired over 200 rockets in a week.

Following this final provocation, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gave his last warning to Hamas, imploring them to spare the populations of southern Israel and the Gaza Strip from further violence. But the rockets kept falling.

Israel restrained itself for so long partially because it knew any operation would be dangerous for civilians on both sides. But with Palestinian rockets reaching deeper into Israel, Israel had to act. Israel was at the point where it could no longer put its own civilians at risk by doing nothing. While Israel did not want to put Palestinian civilians at risk either, it understood that the choice of saving Palestinian lives is up to their own leaders.

It is Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups that operate from crowded Palestinian population centers, and further Israeli restraint would not have changed that. Hamas builds weapons in universities and stocks them in apartment buildings to deliberately put Palestinian civilians in danger. This creates a win-win for Hamas. Either Israeli civilians die or Palestinian civilians die, which makes them great PR and shahids (martyrs for the cause of Islam). No matter who dies, Hamas is happy.

With Hamas committing war crimes against both civilian populations, Israel, though it tries, is in a difficult place to save civilians. The one thing it could do, since eventual confrontation is inevitable, is to confront Hamas now before it acquires more advanced weaponry. Hamas’s founding charter says: “Israel will only exist until Islam will obliterate it,” and that “There is no solution except by Jihad.” It also states that international conferences are “a waste of time … a means to appoint non-believers.” Hamas has stuck by its charter, refusing to even honor ceasefires. Israeli restraint would only allow Hamas to acquire more sophisticated weapons, putting civilians on both sides in even greater danger.

Multiple times, Israel has engaged in negotiations and even offered parts of its historic homeland to the Palestinians for the sake of peace. All these efforts have gone to waste, because Hamas is not interested in peace or independence. The essence of its existence is to destroy Israel, not to help Palestinians. Though Israel tried, there is not much one can do to make peace with an enemy like that.

Israel’s critics will nevertheless demand that Israel show restraint, and in some cases they will defend Hamas. But they will never be able to draw a parallel. No democracy in the world has had to endure what Israel has tolerated. Imagine rockets being shot from Baja California into San Diego indiscriminately. The United States government would have the responsibility to protect its citizens. As president-elect, Barack Obama said during his last visit to Israel: “If missiles were falling where my two daughters sleep, I would do everything in order to stop that.” Israel has the obligation to do the same.