Paul Greenberg

Hamas became the Palestinians' ruling party after winning the last parliamentary elections. It never dropped its call for the destruction of Israel, but it did announce a truce - for a while. Then it declared that truce void, and backed up its declaration with deeds.

Not only has Hamas done nothing to stop the steady barrage of Qassam rockets being fired across the border at the Israeli town of Sderot, but beginning last month it openly joined the attacks, boasting of its participation.

The last straw for the Israelis came when Hamas was involved in an attack on an Israeli outpost - in Israel itself - that killed two soldiers. A third, a 19-year-old corporal, was wounded and taken hostage. The raid was no spur-of-the-moment impulse; it involved digging a tunnel under the Israeli border, which must have taken weeks, if not months. In short, it was a premeditated act of war.

Just the other day an 18-year-old Israeli settler was kidnapped on the West Bank by a group loosely identified with Hamas and other Palestinian factions/gangs. His body now has turned up, but forensic experts say he was killed shortly after his abduction. Which didn't stop his killers from making much the same demand for his release - a prisoner exchange - now being made by those who claim to be holding the wounded 19-year-old corporal. Nice people, these terrorists.

Having withdrawn unilaterally from Gaza last year, leaving behind prosperous settlements -- most of which have been stripped bare by now -- Israel is fast discovering that no good deed goes unpunished.

Demanding the return of its captured soldier, the Israelis have unleashed artillery barrages and air strikes. They've proceeded to track down and arrest scores of Hamas officials, including eight members of the Palestinian Cabinet, whom they propose to put on trial for their involvement in terrorist activities. Just as they did Fatah's Marwan Barghouti, a popular Palestinian leader convicted of planning murderous attacks within Israel. Perhaps he hoped his standing in the Palestinian camp would make him immune from Israeli justice. It didn't. Now the leaders of Hamas have opened themselves to similar charges.

To quote Israel's formerly dovish defense minister, Amir Peretz, who happens to live in Sderot: "The masquerade ball is over. The suits and ties will not serve as cover to the involvement and support of kidnappings and terror."

What was largely Hamas' unilateral war now has become a larger-scale, bilateral one. And the world has started to pay attention, which it scarcely did when only Israelis were being attacked. Suddenly the United Nations is concerned.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.