If someone was sending rockets on my house where my daughters were sleeping at night, I would do everything to stop it, and I would expect Israelis to do the same thing,” Barack Obama said when he visited southern Israel in July 2008.

The war in Gaza has been at the center of the world’s attention for the past two weeks. The media have discussed the end of the six-month cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, the launching of rockets and mortars into southern Israel, and the subsequent Israeli retaliation, including ground operations in Gaza.

The coverage often ends there. What has been overlooked is that for the past eight years the lives of civilians in southern Israel have been shattered by a near constant barrage of rockets and mortar shells. In the town of Sderot, where rocket attacks have been a daily occurrence, three-quarters of children are afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder and the city has literally gone underground to seek shelter.

The rocket and mortar attacks have intensified since 2005, when Israel, in a domestically controversial and painful move, unilaterally pulled its citizens out of Gaza, making its commitment to peace clear to the international community. Since the disengagement, Israel has made numerous attempts to reach agreements with Hamas to halt the violence, all of which have been rebuffed or explicitly violated. Hamas has made it clear to the world that it has no desire to achieve peace, but rather that its goal is to wipe out Israel and its citizens.

Under such circumstances one can understand why Israel felt the need to act; the Israeli response, however, has been criticized as an attack on Gazan civilians. While the Hamas rocket fire that triggered the incursion and that continues to plague southern Israel explicitly targeted civilians, Israel has exceeded modern military standards to avoid civilian casualties.

The Israel Defense Forces have dropped leaflets over Gaza, sent out mass text and voice messages and sounded alarms to warn civilians of imminent attacks. The Israeli government even halted fighting in order to allow the opening of a corridor for the distribution of humanitarian aid among Gazans.

As a result of these efforts, the Israeli Army, while operating in one of the most densely populated areas in the world and facing an enemy notorious for its use of human shields, has been able to keep the estimated proportion of civilian casualties to total casualties lower than reported estimates for U.S. and NATO operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tragic civilian casualties have occurred, but Israel is not solely to blame. By using mosques, schools and civilian homes as weapons caches, bases of operations, and launching areas for mortars and rockets, Hamas has put the residents of Gaza into the line of fire.

Hamas’s brutal strategy has been successful: Rather than relying on its heavy weaponry to crudely obliterate Hamas’s capabilities, the IDF have engaged their soldiers in more precise and more dangerous urban warfare. Faced with booby-trapped houses and militants disguised as civilians, Israel has incurred avoidable casualties for the sake of Palestinian innocents.

Aside from seeking to restore calm and safety to its southern region, Israel’s recent actions are a necessary step on the path to peace in the region. With Hamas at the helm in Gaza – stifling opposition, radicalizing children, firing rockets on a daily basis and calling for the “obliteration” of Israel – the suffering is bound to continue. As long as Hamas is in power, Israelis and Palestinians alike will not know peace.

Barack Obama has made it clear: Israel, as a sovereign state, has a need, right and responsibility to protect its sons and daughters. It is time for us to open our eyes and recognize that Israel must defend itself and its citizens.

erav Levkowitz and Alexander Olesker are sophomores in the School of Foreign Service. Ariell Zimran is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. All are officers in the Georgetown Israel Alliance.

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