[VIDEO] Palestinians reject deal that turns settlers into landlords in Sheikh Jarrah

Mohammad al-Kurd in Jerusalem (Mostafa Alkharouf - Anadolu Agency)

Nermeen Shaikh & Juan González

Democracy Now!  /  August 3, 2021

The Israeli Supreme Court this week offered Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah a compromise in their ongoing fight to block Jewish settlers from forcibly expelling them from their own homes. The high court proposed that Palestinian families could stay in their homes for now if they begin paying rent to the Jewish settler group that claims ownership over the properties — a deal the families rejected, insisting they are the legal owners. The planned evictions in East Jerusalem helped spark the last war in Gaza in May and have galvanized international support for Palestinians facing dispossession from settler groups and the state. The United Nations has described the planned evictions as a possible war crime. Palestinian writer and poet Mohammed El-Kurd, whose family is among those facing eviction in Sheikh Jarrah, says the Israeli Supreme Court is “evading its responsibilities” by refusing to make a ruling, offering a face-saving compromise instead that will not ultimately benefit the families. “We would be living at the mercy of settlers, paying rent to live in our own homes and dealing with all kinds of arbitrary policies,” he says.

Nermeen Shaikh: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Nermeen Shaikh, with Juan González.

We go now to occupied East Jerusalem in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families are trying to block Jewish settlers from forcibly expelling them from their own homes. On Monday, the Israel Supreme Court offered a deal to four of the Palestinian families facing eviction: They could stay in their homes for now, if they begin paying rent to a Jewish settlement organization, which claims ownership over the disputed properties. The Palestinian families rejected the deal, insisting they were the legal owners. The Israeli Supreme Court has not yet set a date for its final ruling. The United Nations has described the planned evictions as a possible war crime. U.N. rights office spokesperson Rupert Colville said in May, quote, “The occupying power cannot confiscate private property in occupied territories.”

Well, we’re joined now by Mohammed El-Kurd, a Palestinian writer and poet who’s organizing to save his family’s home in Sheikh Jarrah. He was in the courtroom on Monday.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Mohammed. Could you describe what happened Monday in the court, what the proceedings were like and what the response to the deal has been?

Mohammed El-Kurd: Absolutely. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. The court hearing at the Israeli colonial Supreme Court was like any other hearing we’ve had, except for the massive amount of press outside the court hall. Essentially, what happened is that we were in a courtroom that was speaking only in Hebrew, and we do not speak Hebrew — most of us that live in Sheikh Jarrah do not speak Hebrew — so we are there playing a game of broken telephone, trying to decipher what is being said. But we understood that there are — that the Supreme Court is evading its responsibilities. The court is really aware of the international media pressure. They even explicitly made a remark about the media pressure. And so, they wanted to reach a, quote-unquote, “diplomatic” solution, and so they’re evading their responsibilities, pressuring us to reach a settlement with the settlers instead.

Now, the way this is being reported or the way this is being conveyed might sound like a good deal, but what’s happening here is that we would be living at the mercy of settlers, paying rent to live in our own homes, and dealing with all kinds of arbitrary policies. I imagine I don’t — I personally don’t love the idea of having a landlord, let alone having a settler landlord.

Juan González: And, Mohammed, could you go a little bit, for our listeners and viewers who don’t know the story of the history of your home, going back to, actually, to 1956? And you wrote in an article in The Nation last summer that your grandmother, who was an icon of Palestinian resistance, was one of the original people who settled in that particular home?

Mohammed El-Kurd: Yeah, absolutely. My grandmother was among 27 other families that were forcibly expelled from their homes in the 1948 Nakba upon the establishment of what is called the state of Israel on Palestinian lands through ethnic cleansing, and so they were made refugees. And they went from city to city, and they found themselves in Jerusalem. The United Nations, alongside the Jordanian government, decided to build Sheikh Jarrah, the units at Sheikh Jarrah, as a refugee project to house them. Unfortunately, they never — both of these entities never fulfilled their promises of transferring the land ownership to the Palestinian refugees because of the Naksa in 1967, because of the war with the Israeli forces. And so, in the ’70s, you began seeing Israeli settler organizations, largely registered in the United States and funded by private donors in the United States, claiming our property.

Now, to understand this, you have to understand the larger picture, that every — almost every neighborhood in occupied Jerusalem is facing the same threat of NGOs, settler NGOs, that are fabricating documents and using an inherently biased judicial system, an inherently colonial judicial system, to expel Palestinians. So you have a partnership here between the settler organizations and the state to expel Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah. And this is exactly what’s happened in Sheikh Jarrah since 1972. This has been 49 years of postponement and delays and court cases.

So I think it’s really important for people that are listening to understand that the punishment is not just in the act of the expulsion. The punishment is the process itself. It’s losing your youth, losing your hope, losing the prospects of your future to the lingering threat of homelessness at all times. And this reality is not just for people in Sheikh Jarrah; it’s the reality for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians all across Palestine.

Juan González: And in terms of what is your hope in terms of the still to be — the ruling to come from the Israeli court?

Mohammed El-Kurd: I would like to see the court make a ruling. I dare the court to make a ruling. You know, I know that these judges, these so-called justices, have been evading their responsibility of making a ruling, because they have a reputation in the legal world. They have universities to go and give talks to, to Yale and Harvard, and they have places where they have to hold their head up high. But I would like them to make a ruling, not that I ever expect that any ruling that would come from an Israeli court be in my favor or in the favor of Palestinians, because, as we know, it is fundamentally colonial and biased against Palestinians. But I would like them to take their own actions. I am not going to settle. I am not going to compromise. I am not going to pay for my own dispossession. I would like them to confront the possible — like, the potential international ramifications for their actions.

Nermeen Shaikh: And, Mohammed, could you say a little bit more about the judges on this case? You pointed out in one of your tweets that Noam Sohlberg, one of the judges, himself lives in a settlement in the occupied West Bank.

Mohammed El-Kurd: Yeah. I mean, he’s not — he’s also not the only one of the Supreme Court justices that live in internationally recognized occupied territories. This is a system that does not care about international law, that does not care about the way it looks. You know, this is the High Court of Justice. This is — it’s in the name. This is the High Court of Justice. And it has erected on the rubble of land stolen from Palestinians. This system, this entire system, can never be in favor of Palestinians, nor can it ever be able to deliver justice to Palestinians here in Jerusalem.

Nermeen Shaikh: And could you explain, Mohammed, the ongoing repression in Sheikh Jarrah, as we speak, and the role of these settler organizations — in particular, Nahalat Shimon — involved in this case?

Mohammed El-Kurd: Absolutely. You know, you had me — Amy had me on here a month or two ago, and I was talking about a blockade, an illegal blockade, where Israeli occupation forces blockaded our neighborhood and suppressed our children and tear-gassed us and beat us with batons and threw skunk water at our homes. And this is very much still the reality. Just yesterday, we had to deal with a lot of Israeli occupation — Israeli occupation forces’ repressions in Sheikh Jarrah.

What’s really interesting — and it’s not just an anomaly in Sheikh Jarrah — is the clear and explicit and unabashed partnership that takes place between the police forces, the soldiers and the settlers, where they combine their efforts and collude to repress Palestinians. We’ve seen this in the West Bank, where Israeli settlers and soldiers work together to kill Palestinians. And we saw The Intercept even do a report on it. And we’re seeing this every single day in Sheikh Jarrah, where settlers can just point at which Palestinians they’d like to see repressed or brutalized by the Israeli police officers and exactly do the same. I mean, I will tell you, I had a journalist come into the neighborhood a few months ago, and I was telling her all kinds of things about this being a partnership and this being apartheid and the treatment that settlers get. And she didn’t believe me, until a settler pointed at her and then, boom, she was asked to leave the neighborhood, forced to leave the neighborhood, actually, and then she believed me.

So it’s really important to point out that when we say the system is made up of settlers, this manifests materially. This is a system built by settlers to expel Palestinians, and in every avenue it takes place, it’s doing just that: serving settler supremacy, working to expel Palestinians.

Juan González: And, Mohammed, you tweeted that while you were in the courtroom, Israeli soldiers stormed into homes in the neighborhood?

Mohammed El-Kurd: Yes. While we were in the courtroom, the majority of the neighborhood, actually, went to the Supreme Court to support our families, because we do this as a community, we do this as a neighborhood. And while we were outside, the Israeli forces raided three of our neighbors’ homes. One of the homes actually is my friend’s, Murad Atia’s. His aunt is disabled, and she’s elderly, and they did not care to wake her from her sleep. They did not care to disrupt her, to horrify her in her bedroom, with, you know, saying that there are rioters hiding. I’m wondering where the rioters could be.

Nermeen Shaikh: And, Mohammed, The Times of Israel reported that the Israeli government was, in fact, hoping to postpone this hearing in bid to assuage the Biden administration, which has opposed the evictions. So, your response to that, and also the fact that Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, is expected to arrive in the U.S. later this month for his first state visit and meeting with President Biden? What do you expect to happen during that meeting?

Mohammed El-Kurd: I mean, it’s really clear that Sheikh Jarrah and the battle against Israeli ethnic cleansing has won in terms of the international media landscape. We have won. The fact that there were over a hundred journalists awaiting our return from the courtroom yesterday exemplifies that we have won. And so, the Israeli government is terrified of taking action against the community here in Sheikh Jarrah.

I say this, however, knowing that this is a regime that have behaved, for decades and decades, for seven decades, with such impunity, has massacred and murdered and stolen lands and annexed illegally for decades and decades, and did so with such impunity that I worry that international outrage or diplomatic concerns might not deter it from doing this. So, like everybody else, I watch this from my couch, and I wait to see what happens. But I will say that the general sentiment in Sheikh Jarrah, alongside the anxiety and sleeplessness, is the fury that our fate, our destiny is in the hands of colonizers, is at the mercy of laws that were made by colonizers to serve colonizers.

Nermeen Shaikh: And, Mohammed, very quickly, before we conclude, you’ve said — and you’ve said again now — that you have no faith in the judicial process, but what you do have faith in is the kinds of protests that have happened all across the world, as you just said, that Sheikh Jarrah has already won. Could you talk about what you’d like to see happen on the streets from people across the EU and especially here in the U.S., the countries that have previously given unconditional support to the Israeli state?

Mohammed El-Kurd: I would like to see politicians and policymakers be loyal to the wishes of their constituents, to the people who live in their countries. It’s very clear that the people of the world, the tide is turning. The dam has already cracked, and people are in support of Palestinian liberation and decolonization. And it’s just about time that this support manifests materially, that boycotts, divestments and sanctions be implemented, that people take onto the streets and continue taking onto the streets, because this cannot sustain. This system of apartheid, of settler colonialism, of military occupation is just not sustainable. And the Israeli government must be stopped, before the entire Palestinian population is wiped out.

Nermeen Shaikh: Thank you so much, Mohammed El-Kurd, a writer and poet from Jerusalem in occupied Palestine, who’s organizing to save his family’s home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Nermeen Shaikh is a broadcast news producer and weekly co-host at Democracy Now! in New York City

Juan González co-hosts Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman