Democracy Now ! / May 24, 2021
The United Nations is appealing to the world to address the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza following the 11-day Israeli assault that killed 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, and injured more than 1,700 people. The U.N. is estimating that at least 6,000 residents of Gaza were left homeless after their homes were bombed by Israel, which has maintained a blockade on Gaza for the past 14 years. Tensions also remain high in Jerusalem, where dozens of Jewish settlers backed by Israeli security forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound Friday and Israeli authorities are continuing the campaign to forcibly evict Palestinians from their homes so Jewish settlers can move in. Mohammed El-Kurd, a Palestinian writer and poet who is organizing to save his family’s home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem, says Israeli aggression against Palestinians has continued despite the ceasefire. “Colonial violence is still business as usual in occupied Palestine at large,” El-Kurd says.
AMY GOODMAN: The United Nations is appealing to the world to address the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza as the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is holding for a fourth day. The 11-day Israeli assault on Gaza killed 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, there. More than 1,700 people were injured. The U.N. is estimating at least 6,000 residents of Gaza were left homeless after their homes were bombed by Israel, which has maintained a blockade on Gaza for the past 14 years.
Meanwhile, tension remains high across the region. On Sunday, dozens of Jewish settlers backed by Israeli security forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third-holiest site in Islam. On Friday, Israeli security forces fired stun guns and rubber bullets at Palestinians outside the mosque.
Israeli prosecutors have also filed terrorism charges against three Jewish men who pulled a Palestinian man out of his car in the city of Bat Yam two weeks ago and viciously beat him. A police official said, quote, “The three defendants engaged in inciting the mob before the victim arrived. They stole, looted from and destroyed stores owned by Arabs. When they saw an Arab, they carried out an extremely merciless beating,” unquote. Some initial press reports had mistakenly said the victim was Jewish.
Meanwhile, in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, Israeli authorities are continuing their campaign to forcibly evict Palestinians from their homes so Jewish settlers can move in.
We go now to Sheikh Jarrah, where we’re joined by Mohammed El-Kurd. He’s a Palestinian activist and poet who’s organizing to save his family’s home. His debut book, Rifqa, will be released by Haymarket Books later this year.
Mohammed, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the ceasefire, now in its fourth day, what it means and the wreckage in its wake? And then we’ll talk about what’s happening to you, your family and the other residents of Sheikh Jarrah.
MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Thank you. Thank you, Amy. It’s good to be back.
I think the ceasefire means a lot of things. First, it means that the resistance, the Palestinian resistance, be it grassroots or otherwise, has been able to accomplish its own conditions, has been able to withstand a brutal nuclear superpower that is senselessly carpet-bombing a strip where people, 2 million people, are besieged. But in its fourth day, we are seeing that the Israeli authorities did not respect the ceasefire conditions. Al-Aqsa Mosque has been invaded more than once. There has been a mass arrest campaign, and Sheikh Jarrah is still under an illegal blockade. And colonial violence is still business as usual in occupied Palestine at large.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain in more detail what happened at the Al-Aqsa Mosque starting on Friday, and explain the significance of this mosque in Islam.
MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Well, Al-Aqsa Mosque, for Palestinians who are Muslim, it’s the holiest site in Palestine, and it’s the third-holiest site in Islam. And it is continuously raided and stormed by the Israeli police and army, the occupation forces working with Israeli settlers that are usually armed. And what happens is that oftentimes worshipers are met with brute force inside the mosque. This is stun grenades, rubber-coated bullets, sometimes live ammunition. People are detained, harassed, hit, brutalized.
And the images we have been seeing of this violence are not unique. What’s been unique is that finally Palestinians are making noise about what’s happening. We’re finally recording, and the world is finally listening. Yesterday, over, I believe, a hundred-and-something Israeli settlers stormed the mosque to incite violence, to provoke Palestinians. And, of course, the occupation authorities ransacked the mosque, ransacked the worshipers and wounded many.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain Sheikh Jarrah — it seems now the world has heard about your neighborhood in East Jerusalem — your own situation, you and your twin sister Muna. I wanted to play that clip, that went viral, for people to understand what’s taking place. But first, if you can put it into context? How is it possible that a Jewish settler has been living in your house for years? Go back in time.
MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Of course. I mean, I think there’s two things to be said about Sheikh Jarrah: the then and the now. The then is that it is a microcosm of the Israeli reality, the Israeli settler colonialism in Palestine at large. It is absurd to people to hear that there’s a settler from Long Island that’s squatting in my house, but he wouldn’t be able to do that without being emboldened by the Israeli occupation forces, by an Israeli judicial system that is inherently colonial and supremacist, and by American tax dollars. The person in my house has been there, much like many Israelis have inhabited homes that belong to Palestinians that were thrown out of them, that were massacred, that were forced to flee.
And this is the situation in the entire neighborhood. You have settler organizations, that are registered in the United States, that are working and collaborating with the Israeli authorities to fabricate documents to throw out Palestinians. I think it’s important to put in context that we are a community of refugees that is facing a billionaire-backed settler organization that is working in different countries.
And what’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah is not just in Sheikh Jarrah. It’s happening in Silwan, where more than 800 Palestinians are about to be made homeless and a hundred homes will be destroyed, demolished. It’s happening in the South Hebron Hills. It’s happening in Issawiya, where the Israeli authorities are building, quote-unquote, “national parks” to behave as colonial borders, to prevent natural community growth in Palestinian communities. There’s many and a million ways in which Palestinians in Jerusalem are dispossessed. And sometimes it’s a judicial system, sometimes it’s artillery and weapons, and sometimes it’s national parks. But it all behaves in the same way.
I also want to just make a quick note that Sheikh Jarrah has been under an illegal blockade for the past three weeks. No Palestinians — no Palestinians, not even medics, not even journalists —are allowed into the neighborhood, except the people that live there. And even those of us who live there are still harassed and questioned and shoved around. I’ve been shoved around more times than I can count. And that’s been the same reality for other people. This is all happening. The neighborhood is blockaded, barricaded with cement barriers. Meanwhile, Israeli settlers can just walk in, no questions asked. And oftentimes, if not most of the time, they are armed with their rifles or pistols.
AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to go to that viral video showing your twin sister Muna confronting the Israeli settler who’s been living in part of your home for 12 years.
MUNA EL-KURD: Jacob, you know this is not your house.
JACOB FAUCI: Yes, but if I go, you don’t go back. So what’s the problem? Why are you yelling at me? I didn’t do this. I didn’t do this.
MUNA EL-KURD: But you —
JACOB FAUCI: It’s easy to yell at me, but I didn’t do this.
MUNA EL-KURD: You are stealing my house.
JACOB FAUCI: And if I don’t steal it, someone else is going to steal it.
MUNA EL-KURD: No, no one is allowed to steal it.
AMY GOODMAN: So, this Jacob says, “If I don’t steal it, someone else will.” Where does he live in your house?
MOHAMMED EL-KURD: So, he lives — so, the houses, the 28 houses of the Sheikh Jarrah housing project, were built in 1956. And we have built an extension to our house in the year 2000. The extension, of course, was closed immediately upon building, because 94% of building permits presented by Palestinians in Jerusalem get rejected. Actually, the councilman who rejects and accepts these permits is the same person that went viral for another video, saying that their goal is to make East Jerusalem like West Jerusalem, and if it happens at the expense of the Palestinians, it’s no big deal. So, Jacob, from Long Island, Jacob Fauci, lives in that extension of my house and has lived there for, I think, a decade now.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s go to what happened in Gaza, the Hamas-Israel ceasefire. You’ve got over 200 Palestinians killed, over 240 Palestinians killed. About a quarter of them are children. More than 60 of those dead in Gaza are children, as a result of the Israeli bombardment. Now President Biden says that the U.S. will contribute to rebuilding Gaza. I want to play that clip for you. President Biden saying that they will contribute money, and, of course, the United Nations is also calling for a Gaza rebuilding fund. Your response?
MOHAMMED EL-KURD: I think — you know, I believe there was a condition that the resistance must be disarmed. And I just think it’s ridiculous that the United States, of all countries, would talk about disarming what they call terrorism, when they have unleashed more terror onto the world than any other nation.
And I think if we’re going to talk about disarming terrorism, I think Israel is a great place to start. The world seeing Gaza get carpet-bombed was a great presentation — of course, a heart-wrenching and terrible presentation, but nonetheless a good presentation — that the Israeli myth of self-defense is more and more penetrable, that they’re not really defending against anything. And those manipulations of language, those red herrings they throw in the way of Palestinian advocacy, are not strong enough to contrast the images of them targeting densely populated civilian areas, are not strong enough to contrast the intent — the confessions made by Israeli officials about, you know, flattening the Strip or venting out their frustrations by leveling residential towers.
So, I think Israel is losing the battle in the public eye. And I hope no more Palestinians have to be killed before the world takes action against Israelis and against the Israeli authorities, the occupation authorities, who have been getting away with impunity for decades.
AMY GOODMAN: Is there an Israeli peace movement that is expressing solidarity with the Palestinians?
MOHAMMED EL-KURD: I don’t think there’s an Israeli peace movement that directly addresses the Israeli occupation authorities as a form of colonial violence. And I think that’s where the issues stem. I think any Israeli peace movement’s intentions are welcome, but they must reflect the wishes and the self-determination and the self-articulation of the Palestinian street, the voices of the Palestinian youth. And I don’t think — I don’t believe that’s present nowadays.
AMY GOODMAN: The significance of the overall solidarity around the world, what that has meant for you? I mean, we just played a clip of someone in London. Something like 180,000 people protested. That was, rather — yes, that was in Paris.
MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Yes, Amy, that was — the videos in London and Paris, all over the world, have been heartwarming to me as a Palestinian and to many, many, many Palestinians, to see this huge, unprecedented shift in public opinion. And we know that it will have reverberations and accumulations in the coming future. We know that these protests are going to continue and be developed into actions and sanctions and boycotts and initiatives and letters. And I ask the people who are protesting to continue doing so, because we must the stubborn in the face of Israeli colonialism.
We’re also already seeing punishment for these advocacy campaigns, for these protests. Fourteen hundred Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenships have already been arrested in the past two weeks. Yesterday, the Israeli authorities announced a campaign of what they called “law and order,” where they will be arresting 500 more Palestinians to — and I quote — “even the score.” Of course, no Israelis that took part in the lynch mobs were arrested or will be arrested in that campaign. To look at this mathematically, if you’re arresting 500 Palestinians, that means you’re terrorizing 500 families, 500 streets, where you’ll be ransacking, raiding people’s homes, terrorizing them.
This sends a clear message to us Palestinians who have been feeling a sense of national unity across historical Palestine: If you protest colonial violence, you’ll be met with more colonial violence. But it is also — this campaign of, quote-unquote, “law and order” is also an indication that the Israeli occupation authorities are losing control.
AMY GOODMAN: Mohammed El-Kurd, I want to thank you for being with us, writer and poet from Jerusalem. He’s organizing to save his family’s home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem.
Amy Goodman is the host and executive producer of Democracy Now!, a national, daily, independent, award-winning news program airing on more than 1,100 public television and radio stations worldwide. Time Magazine named Democracy Now! its “Pick of the Podcasts,” along with NBC’s “Meet the Press.”