Mohammed El-Kurd, internationally known journalist, activist and poet will be speaking at University of New Mexico on September 29th in the Anthropology lecture hall at 3 p.m..
He won’t remember me from 2010. He was just a kid playing in the street when I attended a protest in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem. His family sat on couches in the street surrounded by their belongings. The Israeli government had evicted an extended family of 37 people from their homes. They had been living in the street for a year before I met them. They calmly shared their story with strangers from around the world.
The El-Kurd family were refugees from Jaffa and Talbieh. They were part of the forced expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians and the destruction of 500 villages in 1948, the year Israel was created. They lived in a refugee camp until 1959 when the Jordanian government and United Nations Relief Works Agency built housing in Sheikh Jarrah. In exchange for receiving title to their homes, the families renounced their refugee status. However, the exchange never happened.
After the war in 1967, Orthodox Jews claimed ownership of land in Sheikh Jarrah. In 1970, Israeli courts ruled that the compound where the Palestinians had lived since 1948 belonged to a United States settler organization. Jews can legally reclaim places they’d owned before 1948. However, the “Absentee Property Law” from 1950 forbade Palestinians to reclaim properties they’d owned before 1948. Laws applied to people based on race is an apartheid legal system.
In 2007, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled the settler claims were based on fraudulent documents, but the government refused to register the land to the El- Kurd family. In 2009, police in riot gear broke into their homes, forcing 53 inhabitants into the street. They became refugees once again. Hours later, their homes were given to Jewish settlers.
In 2010, I attended a pre-sabbath ritual in Sheik Jarrah. Every Friday, Israelis and internationals gathered to protest the dispossession of these families. No arrests were made that day in spite of a strong police presence. Among the 500 protestors were well known journalists and leaders. Avrum Burg, who once hoped to become the Prime Minister, was there. Amira Hass, Israeli journalist and author of “Drinking the Sea in Gaza” was there, as was Sari Nusseibeh, university president and author of “Once Upon a Country”.
That was thirteen years ago. Since then, evictions, home demolitions, and settlement growth continued at an alarming rate. No president, government, corporation, or organization has been able to bring a just resolution to this ongoing tragedy. Following in the footsteps of other family members who have spoken at the UN and the US Congress, El-Kurd hopes to inspire the international community to stand up for Palestinian human rights. He is a seed of hope for his community.