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Op-ed: U.S. must embrace its role as Mideast mediator
First Published Jul 18 2014 04:27 pm • Last Updated Jul 18 2014 04:27 pm

In a recent article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, President Obama, days before the beginning of Operation Protective Edge (the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict),  suggested that peace is the sole solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Nevertheless, although we, as a nation, recognize the importance of peace, we have not taken our role as potential mediators seriously, especially in the current airstrikes that have taken countless of lives in the Gaza Strip.

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Gaza is one of the most densely populated parts of the world; it is also has been often been referred to as an "open-air prison." Because of its location (surrounded by Israel and bordered by Egypt) and history (its blockade), Palestinians living in Gaza have no way of protecting themselves from any possible bombardment and conflict. Hence, the recent bombardment and occupation of Palestine in the form of Operation Protective Edge has left, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, over 1.8 million Palestinians affected.

So despite Israeli officials seeming concern for civilians, attacks on Gaza are attacks on civilians living in this area. This is why since the start of Operation Protective Edge, 80 percent of Palestinians killed are civilians. There is a lack of ability to take shelter, and Egypt’s refuses to open its borders to all civilians. (It is only accepting Palestinians who hold Egyptian passports, and even then, it is a slow crossing). The Israeli Defense Force’s (IDF) air strikes have hit Palestinian residential areas, a center for those with disabilities and places of worship.

 While it is true that Israel gives out warnings to evacuate prior to bombing areas, the question is where are civilians supposed to go. Both Israel and Egypt have closed off their borders.  Second, while seeking to ‘punish’ Hamas, Palestinians have become the target: women, children, workers, doctors, humanitarian aide workers, journalists and others continue to suffer. Palestinians are not, as others have stated, "subjected to the conflict because of Hamas’s violence," but instead are subjected to the conflict because of the decades long occupation of their lands. Even though Israel’s military base and settlers disengaged in 2005, Israel still occupies Gaza and the body of water that borders Gaza.

This is not to deny the international community’s concern for civilians in Gaza, but this concern has failed to produce action. As with 2008 and 2012, we continue to simply observe as countless Palestinians die for the actions of others. The international community acknowledges the increasing death toll, yet only Germany, Italy and Norway went to Israel to start the mediation process. Still more can be done to curb the tide of deaths.

This is where, we, as a nation, then, can mediate. We will be condoning inhumanity if we continue to sit and watch Israel’s disregard for civilians in its bombardment and its occupation of another nation, and as long as we allow Hamas to add fuel to a raging fire by firing rockets. Both parties disregard the Palestinian people and simply see the other as the target. We cannot remain silent nor justify the killing of any civilian—Palestinian or Israeli. We cannot be silent about the atrocities that Palestinian people face and the constant fear that many Israelis live with. We also cannot continue to fund these atrocities. (Our $3 billion annual aid to the IDF is better used elsewhere). We must work toward not only brokering a temporary truce between the two nations, but also, as President Obama stated, long-lasting peace.

Takwa Sharif is a Somali-American who earned her master’s in English at the University of Utah, where she was an instructor. She has also interned for High Road for Human Rights. A native of Somalia, Shukri Harbi is a pre-law student at the University of Utah, where she studies English and Sociology. In 2011, she started the non-profit group Miles for Water, which is committed to provide clean water to the Sub-Saharan and East Africa regions.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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