Faces of resilience - GulfToday

Faces of resilience

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Muna and Mohammed El-Kurd pose for a photo in Sheikh Jarrah. File/ AFP

Palestinian icons Muna and Mohammed al-Kurd are among leaders, artists, and personalities on Time Magazine’s annual list of 100 most-influential people in the world. Born on May 15th, 1998, the 50th anniversary of Israel’s war of establishment, the twins have, at long last, achieved recognition for their 12-year struggle to remain in their home in the Shaikh Jarrah neighbourhood in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem.

“Through online posts and media appearances [the Kurds] provided the world with a window into living under occupation in East Jerusalem this spring — helping to prompt an international shift in rhetoric in regard to Israel and Palestine,” Time’s commentator Sanya Mansoor wrote in her introduction of the twins.

While Muhammed tweeted that their appearance on the list was a “positive” development, he said the Palestinian cause required more than symbolic gestures. Nevertheless, it is significant that they were chosen alongside global leaders who are responsible for the plight of the Palestinian people. Among the guilty are Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, US President Joe Biden, and ex-President Donald Trump. Being on Time’s list does not mean one is a good person, only that one is influential.   

An attractive pair, Muna and Mohammed became the faces of 28 Palestinian refugee families driven from their homes in Haifa, Jaffa and West Jerusalem during Israel’s 1948 war of establishment. In 1956, the Jordanian authorities provided them with homes in Shaikh Jarrah on condition that they renounced their claims to rations from the UN Relief and Works Agency caring for Palestinian refugee while they continued to receive schooling and health care. After three years of occupancy, the properties automatically became the property of the families.

LIfe for Palestinians living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank changed dramatically in 1967 with Israel’s occupation.  In violation of international law, Israel not only ethnically cleansed 250,000 Palestinians by driving them across the Jordan River into the Kingdom of Jordan but also began to build strategically-sited colonies in and around East Jerusalem and the West Bank. By 1970, Shaikh Jarrah, which had been on the Green Line dividing Jordanian East from Israeli-held West Jerusalem, had become a target of colonisers who mounted legal cases to lodge claims to properties inhabited by Palestinians made homeless in 1948. The colonisers argued that

the land on which Palestinian homes were built belonged to Jews then. 

In 2008, some Shaikh Jarrah families were evicted. Muhammad al-Kurd, the patriarch of another family, died 11 days later. Fawzieh al-Kurd camped in a tent outside her home where Gulf Today’s correspondent met her there soon after her eviction. Pressure on the remaining families has increased incrementally since then.

After Muna and Muhammad’s father, Nabil, built an extension to his small house to accommodate his growing family, the room was locked and sealed by the Israelis since it had been constructed without a permit as Israel does not grant permits to Palestinians. In 2009, 15 colonists guarded by armed Israeli police moved in and began to constantly harass family members with the aim of prodding them to leave. Instead, the Kurds stayed.

Since the take-over of this house was well publicised, it became a hub for international activists as well as Israelis in the pro-colonist and anti-colonist camps. Three years old at that time, Muna told Middle East Eye she had heard stories about other families being expelled before the knock came at the door of their home.  

“I grew up and matured around international law, war crimes, crimes against humanity terminologies, and other such expressions.” She has become adept at using these terms and launched an electronic campaign to enlighten the international community about plight of the families of Shaikh Jarrah. 

She pointed out that Palestinian women have assumed prominent roles in this struggle, participating in residents’ meetings, contributing to decision-making, contacting activists and attending Israeli court cases. Muna said the women are not only “grappling with living” in fear for their husbands and sons who are targeted by Israeli but in “fear of being imminently evicted from their homes.”

She revealed, ““I have had a recurring nightmare for years, where I feel someone is trying to pull me out of my house by force, and I resist them.” Due to constant contestation, it is hardly surprising that the twins joined the resistance. More than a decade ago, Muhammad and Muna began blogging about their experiences in the Palestinian struggle to resist expropriation, eviction and homelessness. Both became fluent English speakers in order to tell the international community about what is happening in Shaikh Jarrah. Muna studied media at Bir Zeit University while Muhammad, an accomplished poet and regular contributor to The Nation, interrupted his master’s degree studies in the US state of Georgia to return to his beleaguered neighbourhood in Palestine.

The situation came to a head in May of this year with Israeli colonists, backed up by armed security forces, besieged Shaikh Jarrah and attacked Palestinian worshippers in al-Aqsa mosque during the final days of Ramadan, prompting Hamas to fire rockets into Israel. It responded, as usual, by bombing Gaza, killing 256 Palestinians, including 66 children, and injuring hundreds, while a dozen Israelis were killed and 200 wounded.  The twins were arrested on June 6th, questioned, threatened, and freed after a few hours. On August 2nd, the Israeli Supreme Court postponed a decision in the case of the Shaikh Jarrah families.

Time magazine’s recognition of Muna and Muhammad as influential figures on the world stage may stay the Israel’s execution of its eviction orders for some time but once the story of Shaikh Jarrah fades from the news, Israel will once again threaten and seek to coerce its residents into either leaving their homes or pay rents to the Israeli organisation which claims ownership of the land on which they stand. 2The Kurds refuse to do either. 

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