Since my first visit to Israel/Palestine in March 2002, I have returned five additional times, including a visit to Gaza in November 2012. In those fourteen years, the more things changed the more they stayed the same. Realistic solutions were proposed. Regional players offered concessions. A neutral party with international respect could have led the negotiations and brokered an agreement. Instead, the U.S. acted as Israel’s lawyer demanding impossible concessions from one party and not the other.

Since Ariel Sharon unilaterally withdrew some 8,000 Israeli settlers from Gaza in 2005, Israel has turned the Gaza Strip into an open-air prison for daring to vote in Hamas over a corrupt-riddled Fatah in elections forced upon the Palestinian Authority in January 2006 by the Bush Administration. Since Oslo, the PA has been charged with crushing Palestinian resistance in order to make the Palestinian Occupied Territories safe for continued Israeli occupation. Hamas’ success, therefore, was as much an expresson of the determination of Palestinians in all the occupied territories to resist Israel’s efforts to force their surrender as it was a rejection of Fatah’s willingness to act as Israel’s agent. Hamas’ victory reduced the conflict to its most fundamental elements: there is occupation and there is legitimate resistance.

I am a firm believer in “people power.” We have the capacity to serve as the principal agents of change. This attitude goes against the grain of so-called “political realism” which is based on battlefield results. The power of the American people has been hijacked by the executive branch of the U.S. government and by myths perpetuated by the Israeli government. In the case of a people under a brutal military occupation, how does a popular upswing in democratic thinking begin to take place? How do the majority of peace-seeking individuals regain their voices? The answer is a simple one. Collectively, we actively and virorously participate in the process of legitimacy. We become informed on issues related to this crisis, however complicated they may seem, oftentimes going outside main stream media sources to find unbiased reporting. We hold our politicians accountable for their actions. As citizens of the international community, these are our obligations; no one is exempt. We have everything to gain. Peace, after all, is the cornerstone of world stability and a viable future, and it begins with a recogniton that all Palestinians, whether in the occupied West Bank, occupied East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights or Gaza have the legitimate right under international law to resist an ilegal Israeli military occupation that has lasted for decades.

The current conflict shows that Palestinians, undivided, have moved on from a two-state paradigm to a demand for equal rights. Our Congressional leaders should heed this new political reality. The Palestinians who can most shape the future are now in the streets and squares, speaking to one another and the world directly, and making clear that the ’67 green line that divided Israel and the occupied territories was an instrument of division, not liberation. We must stand with them and support their effort to live as liberated people with equal rights.

This is an exerpt from the third edition of Cathy Sultan’s Israeli and Palestinian Voices book available on Amazon and in your local bookstores.