Israel is sabotaging prospects for peace in the Middle East, and it’s endangering Americans in the process.

Since December 27, Israel has set out to destroy Hamas and in the process killed more than 900 Palestinians; more than 4,000 have been injured.

In defiance of international law, Israel has subjected Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants to collective punishment by bombing civilian areas and restricting access to humanitarian aid. Gazans are trapped in what international observers have likened to a prison, without the ability to flee to neighboring countries for relief.

Israel has blamed Hamas for forcing this massive air, sea and land strike because of its intermittent launching of rockets into Israel. Those rocket attacks cannot be justified when targeting civilians, and they undermine security for both Israelis and Palestinians.

But the rocket attacks are only part of the story. Israel launched air and ground attacks against Hamas on November 4, almost two months before the invasion. Thus Israel, not Hamas, violated the terms of a ceasefire that had been in place for nearly six months.

Hamas had agreed to halt rocket attacks into Israel, in exchange for Israel ending its military strikes and easing its military blockade on Gaza.

Hamas had upheld its end of the bargain by not only stopping the rocket attacks, but as Reuters reported on July 10, arresting militants from other groups who had fired some rockets into Israel.

After Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January 2006, Israel punished Gazans for their free choice by tightening its military blockade, leading to severe shortages in food, electricity and medical supplies. The ceasefire explicitly called on Israel to ease its blockade, which it failed to do.

Now, the war on Gaza has only amplified human suffering.

Israel’s F-16 warplanes targeted Hamas’s security structures, including a police academy. If it seeks to end rocket attacks, why would Israel destroy the very infrastructure Hamas needs to prevent attacks against Israelis?

And what does bombing Palestinian schools, ambulances, mosques, homes and refugee camps have to do with defending Israel?

How many more Palestinian victims will Israel want to claim before it agrees to an unconditional, immediate ceasefire and full humanitarian access to Gaza?

How many Palestinian children will grow to hate America as a result, knowing that the United States provides $3 billion a year in military aid to Israel?

Washington has condoned the destruction of Gaza and has provided Israel with F-16 warplanes and missiles that are inflicting the damage. And President George W. Bush has blamed everything on Hamas.

President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to restore America’s image in the world. He should start by elevating peace and justice in the Middle East over war and occupation.

Farrah Hassen is the Carol Jean and Edward F. Newman Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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