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Opinion: Hamas does not represent me or my people

Opinion by Ezzeldeen Masri

(CNN) — Editor’s Note: Ezzeldeen Masri is the United States outreach director of the OneVoice Movement, a grassroots movement to amplify the voices of moderate Israelis and Palestinians working toward peaceful resolution to the conflict. In 2015, Masri founded OneVoice on Campus to counteract student body polarization related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN. 

Universities should be places where young people advocate for the causes they believe in, and yes, demonstrate. But they should not condone or foster the kind of extremism condemning Palestinians to eternal hell-on-earth — the type that extremist ministers in the Israeli governments, Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, openly promote.

To all those protesting in support of the Palestinian people, thank you. But to those who think you are supporting my people by defending Hamas, please be aware: Your radical positions aren’t helping us. They are hurting us more.

In the tiny Gaza Strip, where 2.3 million Palestinians live, half of those are refugees from the newly founded state of Israel —and their descendants from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. For 75 years the refugees have been living in crowded refugee camps depending on United Nations Relief and Works Agency for food rations, education and health care.

Four months ago, I had the chance to visit the city of Safed, now in Israel, where my mother’s house once stood. As the son of a native Gazan father and a mother who was forced to flee Safed in the upper Galilee, I am a product of both lineages. Recalling how my mom gave up her home, moving from one refugee camp to another, I was overwhelmed by sadness.

My people’s history has been marked by pain, but until October 7, I didn’t know the full extent of the horrors we would endure. More than two months into the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, more than 20,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks and more than 50,000 have been injured, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, and thousands of homes have been destroyed. Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel killed at least 1,200 peopleThe terrorist group also took around 240 hostages and has brought back the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip and marked a new catastrophe in the history of my people.

The impact of this conflict has reverberated around the world, including on US college campuses where I have spent much of my life trying to build bridges. Since 2015, when I started OneVoice on Campus, I have worked to counteract student body polarization related to the conflict. These efforts build on my work dating back to 1990 when I first came to the United States to finish my degree in political science with a specialization in conflict resolution and peace building.

In 2006, I opened the office of OneVoice Gaza in Gaza City to galvanize Palestinians behind the goal of a two-state solution reached through negotiation with Israel and our neighbors.

As a proud Palestinian from Gaza who has dedicated my adult life to trying to put an end to this never-ending cycle of war and suffering for my people, I have learned this: No matter how much you and your people are hurting, more hateful absolutism — from either side — is never the answer. While glorifying radical positions may feel like advancing social justice, it only contributes to the very extremism that makes peace impossible.

On the Israeli side, the Knesset must move from an approach of conflict management to one focused on engaging in continuous negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization, aimed at reaching an end to the military occupation and the emergence of a negotiated two-state reality. On the Palestinian side, those supporting Hamas’ terrorism must stop.

In Gaza’s legislative council elections of 2005 and 2006, I, along with more than 50% of voting age Palestinians, voted for Fatah, which controlled the Palestinian Authority at the time. I did not vote for Hamas because they rejected peace, coexistence and a two-state solution and adopted armed resistance against Israel. Unfortunately, Fatah candidates split the vote, giving power to Hamas, who received only 44.45% of the people’s vote with only one majority win in one out of 16 districts.

Hamas should have been disqualified from running in the first place for its unwillingness to recognize the Oslo Accords of 1993 that made the election possible. However, two factors led to Hamas’ participation in the 2005 elections. First, then-President of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas thought Hamas would change and that his party, Fatah, would win. Second, US President George W. Bush’s administration clearly misunderstood the situation in the region and, in his effort to spread democracy, supported the inclusion of all Palestinian factions in the election and didn’t push to stop Hamas from running even though Hamas had been identified as a terrorist organization by the US Department of State in 1993.

Since 2007, when Hamas administered its bloody coup against the Palestinian Authority, Gazans have been subject to collective punishment policies from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt, which closed its border to Gaza (only briefly opening it on occasion to allow the movement of people and some goods).

Israel has imposed restrictive regulations, including on food and mobility in Gaza. And Hamas’ October 7 massacre has thrown us deeper into violence and conflict. Make no mistake: Hamas does not represent me and my people.

By using violence (which it does not hesitate to inflict upon civilians) to achieve its goals, Hamas is a terrorist organization by definition. The overwhelming majority of Palestinians do not condone violence and acts of terror. Those who lump us together with a terrorist group contribute to misconceptions and stereotypes about our people that sow anti-Muslim hate.

Associating our people with hatred and destruction has put us in harm’s way. The Council on American-Islamic Relations reportedly saw a 182% jump in requests for help and reports of bias incidents against Muslims in the US from October 7 to October 22 from an average 16-day period in 2022. And the US Justice Department is now investigating whether last month’s shooting of three Palestinian college students in Burlington, Vermont, was a hate crime.

To those who were exhilarated at witnessing Hamas’ acts, I ask whether you have experienced the centuries of pain my people have suffered. For us, it is not a video on TikTok; it’s real life. I ask whether you can bring us closer to the ultimate goal of peace.

To those calling for absolutist solutions that rule out common ground between Israelis and Palestinians, you undermine the long-term dream of having an independent Palestinian state next to Israel: a two-state solution won through negotiations and diplomacy. If you really want to free us from the cycle of war and suffering, help free our world from the plague of radicalism altogether.

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