- Max Hyman
Growing Up and Living in Gaza
Today, I joined a webinar featuring Ezzeldeen Masri, a Palestinian who grew up and lived in Gaza for most of his light. Not only did he shed light on his experiences, but also how such experiences intertwined with the important points in Palestinian history. I'd love to share some of the most important parts of his speaking and how they relate to the issue.
Masri was born in Gaza in 1971, but the more striking parts of his life come as an adult, where the pieces started to come together for him as to what was happening around him and why. He explains that Gaza originally wanted Israeli annexation but, with the way it was carried out, things changed. Egypt didn't want them back, and so Gaza wanted independence. Meanwhile, in the midst of such political turmoil as a young adult, he moved to Chicago for 15 years, then back to Gaza with bombing day and night during second intifada. After convincing his American wife to return to his homeland to contribute to diplomatic peace, he did so in the midst of warfare. Heavy bullets behind his house, rockets, israeli tanks moving through his streets- all huge differences from Chicago, and all in his first weeks of returning. For some perspective, he clarified the differences between the 1st and 2nd intifada. The 1st was characterized by rocks being thrown at soldiers with small acts of violence. Masri himself participated in the small acts of violence. Meanwhile, 2nd was a full on war zone in Palestinian territory, with extreme examples of violence like suicide bombings.
Masri was on roof of house when he saw an F-15 rocket from Israeli forces to kill Hamas general, but also killed 45 others. Gazan civilians were forced to leave their homes in violence, a time in which he could see countless barages of Israeli F-15s into Gaza city.
One day, he got a call from IDF that operations would be conducted in his area. Bombing got very close and explosions were in his residential neighborhood. The next building over, less than 200 meters away, was hit and his entire house shuttered. Masri's neighborhood saw bombings with white phosphorus, which he thought was poisonous gas. This is what his mind defaulted too after such violence had been ingrained in his mind. Such bombs are now illegal under international law, as they use bullets that burn the skin. Anyway, the violence built to a point in which he had to leave in a midst of sea of people heading south. During walk, Masri and his family saw an elementary school bombed, leaving 50 Palestinian people dead (later blamed by the IDF on an accident). His family was evacuated to Amman, Jordan, then to Ramallah, before he went back to Gaza just in time to witness escalating war in 2012.
Ezzeldeen worked with One Voice, which was founded in 2002 upon negotiation failures to help reach a two state solution. He introduced One Voice to the Gaza Strip and opened an office in Gaza City. Eventually, he returned to the US to work on One Voice on Campus, which focuses on educating American students on Israeli-Palestinian conflict and provides platform for activists to speak their mind, founding chapters in major cities nationwide. Masri essentially used his traumatic experience to promote peace through making real change via speaking and petitions. Amazing.
Through his advocation for peace, he's learned several valuable lessons. He says its impossible for them to live in peace together in one nation, so for peace, there must be separation. For 100 years, divisions have made it so that good relations are impossible for the next 2ish decades at least, and that is including immediate healing. Masri hopes and says 2-state is possible, with 1967 borders as a guide and the international community's backing, and prays it remains an option into the future. A key point from his perspective is that Gazans, for much of history, would've been happy to just get their Israeli jobs back, but that opportunity is now lost. The population as a whole has shifted further from an easy peace from Israel's failure to provide this, and such ignored needs helped to spiral the conflict out of control. As a Palestinian, Masri has reason to hate the IDF and Israel as a whole. If I heard correctly, he had been beat up by soldiers in the 80s - physical in addition to the emotional pain caused by them. But, instead, he says the cycle of hate must stop somewhere. THIS idea is what needs to be spread. Leaders of the organization that organized the webinar noted that those on the call already showed they were willing to listen to several perspectives. The more important part is to open the minds of those currently unwilling to listen through stories like his with raw emotion of the impacts of such events in their lives. I'd like to leave you with this thought, a quote by Masri at the end of his speech. "There is no alternative to peace. We must learn how to live in peace and to coexist."