It is heart wrenching to see Gaza’s civilian population suffering because of Hamas’ ongoing war against Israel. But they have suffered for seven years under Hamas. The group seized total control of Gaza in June 2007, and the result has been bad for both Israelis and Palestinians.  Israel would have welcomed a peaceful partner to work with and would have gladly helped make the area flourish so Gazans could enjoy a better life.

Picture the beautiful beaches of Gaza, for example.  They hug the Mediterranean just like Tel Aviv does. The beaches could have become a sought-after tourist destination, just as Tel Aviv is. Israel would have been happy to foster joint projects and partner in the growth and prosperity of Gaza.  Imagine this: the people of Gaza could have passed through routine border crossings to visit Israeli cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, or visit their relatives and friends in Israel and the West Bank, or attend concerts, dance clubs, and art shows.  And Israelis could have done the same, visiting Gaza’s beaches, restaurants, and shops.  Why not?  If everyone is peaceful and means well, why shouldn’t Gazans visit Israel, travel via Ben Gurion Airport, and enjoy all the freedoms and benefits of a friendly neighbor?

It could have happened, but it didn’t. Here’s why.  Hamas said no.  Hamas is dedicated to war against Israel, not peace; to destroying its neighbor, not to constructing a decent civil society.  Hamas adheres to its founding charter which calls for the murder of Jewish people and the “obliteration” of the Jewish state.  Hamas has feverishly worked to live up to this mission. Since August, 2005, when Israel completely evacuated from Gaza, Hamas and its allies have  launched over 11,000 rockets and mortars into Israel, determined to hit something significant and kill Israelis.  Initially, Israel didn’t have Iron Dome, so its only protection was the Red Alert siren that gave everyone—children, adults and senior citizens alike—only 15 to 45 seconds to run to the safety of a bomb shelter.  In fact, Hamas helped turn the Israeli border city of Sderot into the bomb shelter capital of the world.

Over the years, with Iran’s help, Hamas built up its arsenal and rocket capacity.  It now has longer-range Fajr missiles that can reach as far as Haifa. Thankfully, Israel has improved its ability to protect its citizens:  Israel now has Iron Dome.  Israel says Iron Dome has been 90% effective at stopping rockets that would otherwise hit population centers.

Hamas at least is open and honest about its goal of murdering Jews, and it has not let Iron Dome deter it.  Now it has built an elaborate underground cross-border tunnel system –an underground city—that reaches into Israeli communities with the goal of infiltrating Israel with surprise attacks to murder and/or kidnap Israelis.  Some of the attack tunnels exit near Israeli kindergartens.  Israel has even found tranquilizers, hand cuffs, and subterranean rooms so Hamas and its like-minded groups would have been able to kidnap and keep Israelis prisoner for a long time.

How does this strenuous effort and allotment of resources help the people of Gaza?  It doesn’t.  Israel has estimated that with the materials and money spent on just one tunnel, Hamas could have built 86 homes, 7 mosques, 6 schools, and 19 medical clinics. And there are dozens of tunnels.

Gazans don’t just suffer from what Hamas doesn’t give them. They also suffer from what Hamas does give them: a frightening dictatorial police state that allows them few freedoms, and impoverishment.  One can only imagine how fearful the people of Gaza are of Hamas, and how they have absolutely no say about their future.  They must live in fear of Hamas rulers who do not allow dissent, do not respect women or gays, and constantly place them in harm’s way so when Israel acts to defend its citizens, Palestinian civilian casualties are guaranteed to be high.  Then Hamas can parade their civilian casualties in front of the media to win sympathy and support they would otherwise never have.  And if the people of Gaza object, they are murdered in the streets of Gaza as “Israeli collaborators.”

The real tragedy of Gaza’s Palestinians is that they  are trapped under the radical Islamist leadership of Hamas. Imagine what their lives could be like without Hamas, and with decent leadership instead.  Maybe the result of this present war will be that Israel finally frees the people of Gaza from Hamas, because nobody else seems to care enough or have the power to do it.  Yes, it would be good for Israel to finally have a peaceful neighbor rather than a terrorist group.  And it would also liberate the people of Gaza.  There could actually be hope for a positive future for their children  and grandchildren.

Roberta R. Seid PhD, StandWithUs Director of Research-Education co-authored this article.