The Guardian / July 28, 2021
The world has looked away, but in Sheikh Jarrah the effort to dispossess us has not slowed down.
A few months ago, the world’s attention was on Sheikh Jarrah, my neighbourhood in occupied Jerusalem. For decades, Israeli settlers, backed by their state, have been trying to displace us from our homes and colonize our neighbourhood. The UN called these forcible expulsions a war crime. I call this theft – because it is.
In May, our efforts to resist this takeover received a surge of solidarity from Palestinians across Jerusalem and further afield, in what became known as the Unity Uprising. Palestinians were subjected to Israeli violence across the eastern part of Jerusalem – not only in Sheikh Jarrah, but outside the Damascus gate (itself a focus of protests), and in and around the al-Aqsa mosque – which escalated into attacks on besieged Gaza. Palestinians mobilized and resisted, and around the world people demonstrated in support of the Palestinian right to liberation and decolonization. But after the ceasefire, the world’s attention has moved away. The reality for Palestinians, however, has not changed.
In Sheikh Jarrah, the effort to dispossess us has not slowed down. Our neighbourhood has been under a blockade for three months, maintained by Israeli forces, with continuing restrictions intended to suffocate the lives of the hundreds of Palestinians who live here. And yet, meanwhile, armed Jewish settlers, who have already occupied some of our homes, roam freely on the streets. On any given night, a dozen gun-wielding fanatics patrol my street with arrogant impunity. They are protected – even supported – by the troops blockading our community.
For those of us living in Sheikh Jarrah, the evidence of this partnership between settlers and the state is abundant and overwhelming. Consider the events of two days last month. On 21 June, Israeli police came into the neighbourhood after a settler pepper-sprayed four schoolgirls on the street. But when they arrived, the officers ignored the girls and arrested two Palestinian boys. Of course, they did not arrest the settler – but they did threaten to arrest my brother for filming the detention of the two boys.
Later the same day, dozens of armed settlers gathered in a home that was seized in 2009 from the Ghawi family, sparking a night of violence that once again saw militarized police joining in attacks on Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah. At one end of Othman Bin Affan street, Israeli occupation forces beat Palestinians with batons; at the other end, settlers threw rocks and chased protesting teenagers with pepper spray. Journalists who arrived on the scene were also targeted. Some young Palestinians attempted to disrupt this repression, launching fireworks at settlers. Before the end of the night, a number of Palestinian homes – including ours – were invaded by Israeli forces.
The next morning, as I collected about 10 stun grenade fragments from the street, my neighbour stopped me to show me dozens more spent munitions. His children had displayed them on their outdoor table, like a collection of macabre souvenirs. The same day, a member of the Israeli Knesset, Bezalel Smotrich, barged into my family’s house, along with Tzahi Mamo, the director of Nahalat Shimon International – a private company, registered in the US, that is working to seize our neighbourhood and cleanse it of Palestinians. Nahalat Shimon International files lawsuits relying on racist Israeli legislation, fabricated documents and settler judges to expel Palestinians from their homes and hand over the properties to settlers. When lawmakers show up on my doorstep to call for me to be stripped of my home, what Palestinians have been saying for decades is confirmed: the settlers and the state mirror one another.
I am tired of reporting the same brutality every day, of thinking of new ways to describe the obvious. The situation in Sheikh Jarrah is not hard to understand: it is a perfect illustration of settler colonialism, a microcosm of the reality for Palestinians across 73 years of Zionist rule. This vocabulary is not theoretical. It is evident in the attempts to throw us out of our homes so that settlers can occupy them – with the backing of the regime, whose forces and policies provide violent support for the transfer of one population to install another.
I do not care whom this terminology offends. Colonial is the correct way of referring to a state whose forces collude in the violence of settlers; whose government works with settler organizations; whose judicial system uses expansionist laws to claim our homes; whose nation-state law enshrines “Jewish settlement” as a “national value … to encourage and promote”. The appetite for Palestinian lands – without Palestinians – has not abated for over seven decades. I know because I live it.
On 2 August, the Israeli supreme court, whose jurisdiction over the eastern part of Jerusalem defies international law, is set to decide whether it will allow the appeal of my family and three others – a last legal obstacle before we can be expelled. There have been postponements before. Palestinians are accustomed to this kind of stalling; it tests our stamina. But we are as stubborn as anyone else faced with the prospect of losing their home – their life, their memories – to those using force, intimidation and biased laws.
In the face of this cruelty, and despite teargas and skunk water, we are resisting. We cannot allow them to steal our homes once more, and we refuse to continue living in refugee camps while colonizers live in our houses. We cannot let them throw more of us on to the streets. We are tired of being turned into a refugee population, neighbourhood after neighbourhood, one home at a time.
I have no faith in the Israeli judicial system; it is a part of the settler-colonial state, built by settlers for settlers. Nor do I expect any of the international governments who have been deeply complicit in Israel’s colonial enterprise to intervene on our behalf. But I do have faith in those people around the world who protest and pressure their governments to end what is essentially unconditional support for Israeli policies.
Impunity and war crimes will not be stopped by statements of condemnation and raised eyebrows. We Palestinians have repeatedly articulated what kind of transformative political measures must be taken – such as civil society boycotts and state-level sanctions. The problem is not ignorance, it is inaction.
Mohammed El-Kurd is a Palestinian writer and poet from Jerusalem