Since his address to the Muslim world from Cairo, Egypt, President Barack Obama has called on Israel to halt settlement construction in the West Bank, rightfully identifying the expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements as one of the primary roadblocks to peace. But under the leadership of right-wing politician Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel has rebuffed Obama’s request, claiming a “fundamental right” to expand existing settlements and, in some instances, grant new building permits to Jewish settlers.

For years, Israel has blamed Arab intransigence for the failure of past peace initiatives and processes. To this day, Israel has yet to compel itself to come to terms with what its existence has meant for the Palestinian people. Since 1947, Arab Palestinians — Christians and Muslims — have been the victims of forced dispossession, dislocation, a brutal military occupation and an overall denial of their basic right to exercise self-determination. The majority of Palestinians are now a scattered people, living mostly in squalid refugee camps throughout the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan; under an unforgiving Israeli military occupation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank; or as second-class citizens of Israel. Yet, there is hope.

Following Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip last winter, 1,400 Palestinians were killed in under 23 days,with the majority civilians and a significant proportion of children. Organizations and people of conscience have stood up in defense of the human rights of Palestinians. The United Nations recently conducted a massive fact-finding mission titled “Human Rights in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories: Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.” This 575-page report outlines, in meticulous detail, Israel’s numerous human rights abuses against the Palestinians, including, but not limited to, Israel’s ongoing illegal blockade and siege of the Gaza Strip; attacks on government buildings and police forces last winter; indiscriminate attacks by Israeli armed forces last winter that resulted in the intense loss of life and injury to civilians; Israel’s use of phosphorous munitions in contravention of internationally recognized rules of war; and, most disturbingly, Israel’s use of Palestinian civilians as human shields when conducting raids. The report also criticized the behavior of Hamas guerillas, specifically when it came to the reckless launching of homemade rockets into southern Israel. Interestingly enough, neither the United Nations nor Amnesty International were able to find any evidence that Hamas guerillas, or any other Palestinian militants, used Palestinian civilians as human shields during last winter’s conflict. This was something Israel repeatedly claimed last winter as Palestinian civilians were dying by the dozens at the hands of the Israeli “Defense” Forces.

Although the United States and Israel have tried to discredit the findings of the United Nations report, such claims are unfounded and are not based on any sort of legitimate criticism of the report’s actual substance. According to Israel and the United States, the report is biased against Israel because it details Israeli war crimes and calls for Israel to hold its leaders accountable. We encourage you to read the report for yourself.

Additionally on Capitol Hill, two new lobby groups, J Street and the American Association for Palestinian Equal Rights, have formed with the explicit intention of changing Washington’s role in the Middle East. Both organizations have recognized that the time has come for the United States to function as a truly impartial mediator between Israel and the Palestinians instead of as a dishonest broker that supports Israel unconditionally.

As students at an institution of higher education, it is no longer appropriate for us to stay silent as Israel continues to prioritize its own security needs over fundamental Palestinian rights. Israel is no more secure today than it was 61 years ago when its creation resulted in the displacement of 750,000 Arab Palestinians. Israel actually undermines its own security when it arbitrarily imposes curfews in the West Bank and denies the Gaza Strip of much-needed medical supplies. The question now is what we can do to help contribute to a just and sustainable solution to the Zionist-Palestinian conflict — one that protects the basic human rights of both Israelis and Palestinians.

Tomorrow, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality begins a two-day conference to address these issues. The conference is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. in 150 Hutchins Hall, and is free for students.

Mike Sayre is the media chair of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality.

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