Ezzeldeen Masri is not alone in his advocacy for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
But unlike his counterparts in the United States, Israel and elsewhere worldwide, Masri does his work from a place some might consider more precarious — inside the Gaza Strip.
“My wife sometimes is worried,” Masri shared last week, “and that has to do with the fact that politics in the Middle East can turn violent and some people really oppose your view on a particular issue.”
The Palestinian native was in Pittsburgh to speak with community leaders about his mission. As the Gaza Office director for OneVoice, an international grassroots movement with offices in Israel, the U.S., the United Kingdom and the West Bank, which works to bring people and politics together to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Masri has experienced the unrest plaguing the people that one day hope to have their own Palestinian state.
Masri, 43, was raised in a politically conscious household. He was active in the first Palestinian uprising and at age 17 joined a small socialist faction known as the People’s Party, which supported the idea of a Palestinian state and coexistence with Israel.
During the civil war between Fatah and Hamas in 2007, masked men armed with guns broke into Masri’s OneVoice office in Gaza City, forcing Masri and his colleagues to work from home with laptops, iPads and cellphones.
Masri tried to discover who was responsible for the break-in with the help of Hamas police but never determined the identity of the culprits. Masri, though, does not feel like he is under any threat.
“If I felt my life was in danger I wouldn’t do this kind of work,” Masri said, later adding he prefers to think of his work as nationalistic and patriotic rather than brave.
Masri explained why he has reason not to worry. The OneVoice movement receives full support from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, according to Masri. It also has an understanding with Hamas, which currently controls the Gaza Strip.
“They know what I do, and they tolerate it based on a gentlemen’s agreement that I won’t directly attack them or antagonize the people against them,” Masri said. “When it comes to the two-state solution, Hamas is not an opponent to a Palestinian state of the 1967 borders.”
However, Hamas, like other Islamist groups, calls for the destruction of Israel.
“They’re not an opponent of the 1967 borders, I suppose, [because] Hamas opposes the whole State of Israel,” noted Stuart Pavilack, executive director of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Zionist Organization of America. “They just want the entire elimination of the state.”
Masri said al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad oppose Hamas because they believe Hamas sold out from its original mission against the State of Israel for political gain. But Pavilack grouped all three in the same boat.
“Those groups are usually united in killing Jews and eliminating Israel,” he said.
While Masri might not feel as though he is any danger, it remains difficult for him to find support. Masri organizes town hall meetings to discuss the situation with Palestinian youths, but he is often met with skepticism.
“The reaction is mixed; the minority is receptive to what we say,” Masri said. “Since 1948, there has been no pragmatic movement like OneVoice Palestine that goes out and does town hall meetings with ordinary people and explains to them what the two-state solution is and what it involves.”
The doubt that Masri can succeed does not simply stem from the difficulty of his mission but the suspicion that Palestinian people have about the Israeli government’s integrity. It’s the same complaint that many Israelis have against those on the Palestinian side.
And even though his visit to Pittsburgh came more than a week after the failure of U.S.-led peace talks, Masri was adamant that peace would still be achieved.
“The train is on track toward the two-state solution,” Masri said. “It hasn’t arrived yet to its final destination, but it’s going there because the two-state solution serves the interests of Israel, it serves the interests of Palestine, and it serves the interest of the international community.”
(Andrew Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)