“Maybe liberation is within reach”: Palestinian resistance against Israeli settler colonialism
In early May 2021, as the Israeli Supreme Court prepared to uphold the eviction of four Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, protests erupted in the city against Israeli apartheid, occupation, and dispossession of Palestinians. Israel responded by cracking down on protesters, and on May 10th, launching a deadly campaign of airstrikes against Palestinians in Gaza, leaving at least 230 dead and more than 1,700 wounded as of May 20th.
Israel’s latest campaign of death and terror has sparked a renewed Palestine solidarity movement around the world. After 73 years of Israeli occupation, beginning with what Palestinians call the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”) on May 15th, 1948, Palestinians have not given up the fight for their homeland.
We are publishing excerpts from an interview with Mohammed el-Kurd, a Palestinian writer and poet living in Sheikh Jarrah, from the May 17th 2021 edition of the podcast Groundings, hosted by Devyn Springer and co-hosted by Palestinian-American organizer Abu Shawarib. Find Groundings on your podcast app or online at https://groundings.simplecast.com/
The feeling on the street is a feeling of defiance. For the first time, since God knows when, there’s a feeling of unity across historic occupied Palestine and in the diaspora. We’re learning, as Palestinians, that these colonial fragmentations implemented by the Israeli occupation authorities, be it in Palestine ‘48, inside the so-called West Bank, or in the eastern part of Jerusalem, are all fake. We’re realizing we’re a people, despite the geography, and we’re uprising everywhere. The feeling of defiance and pride is present. That’s the saving grace in the face of all the brutality, tear gas, and bullets, all of the martyrs and the anxiety.
Some nights we go to sleep with our shoes and clothes on because there are Israeli special forces in the yard, and I’ll wake up and see [a soldier] looking at me through the window… It’s a traumatic level of violence, but I think the Palestinian people in general have a defiance or indifference to this violence, which helps us.
I’m a supporter of Palestinian resistence, of the resistance of any subjugated people, period, without condition. For me personally, the front that is most important right now is the media front. Speaking with many of my friends who lived through the first and second intifada, we’re truly living in, dare I say, an unprecedented time in terms of the shift in public opinion. This is partly due to the George Floyd uprisings last year because Black people were like, “Fuck you, we’re going to resist however, whatever way we want.” This has allowed for Palestinians to also say that in the public arena. I also think it’s because the new generation, my generation, is finally being unabashed. We’re no longer “humanizing” ourselves, no longer appealing to a Western audience.
This articulation surpasses the pseudo “Palestinian leadership” of the Palestinian Authority or other political parties that have been engulfed with respectability, with suppression, with watered-down and sanitized language – surpassing that, to speak however we want, has carved a way for us. I say this knowing that Israeli politicians are kicking and screaming, they are terrified of losing the narrative. I hate to sound cliche about the narrative shifting, but it’s true they’re terrified of this ability to articulate.
I was talking with my friend and I said that I know this is unprecedented but I don’t know how. She said to me that when people are in solidarity with Palestinians, they often speak about human rights violations. This is the first time people are talking about this in the context of settler colonialism. That articulation of settler colonialism, that context, is allowing people to finally understand this. Because this is presented as such a “complex issue,” but when you give it its name, it is easy to understand. Sheikh Jarrah, particularly, is a microcosm because you see all of the violent manifestations of settler colonialism in this one street, be it the police brutality, the ethnic cleansing,
Devyn Springer: There are massive uprisings sweeping across cities and villages across Palestine, as you said, at an almost unprecedented level. We’re also witnessing Palestinians from neighbouring Jordan and neighbouring areas return in protest. What do you make of this?
I want to say it’s decolonization. It’s the first time you have Palestinians all across [the region] that are uprising while people are getting carpet-bombed in the Gaza Strip, while people are getting ethnically cleansed in occupied Jerusalem, while people are getting ethnically cleansed in the South Hebron Hills, while people are getting exiled and administrative detention. Now they’re coming home. As a person with family in Jordan who are dying to come home, whose IDs have been revoked by the occupation, I can only imagine the joy they felt running through the border.
I never in my life thought liberation could be within our reach. I don’t know if I fully believe it yet because I’ve been so highly repressed and traumatized by the Zionist narrative, by living under an entity that is not only very powerful but also peacocks its powerfullness, that refuses to admit any defeats, that makes you feel so small and miniscule. But I also think maybe liberation is within our reach.
I don’t think anything I say is radical. I mean, it’s radical in terms of public discourse. But I don’t think it’s radical, because it’s a complete reflection of the Palestinian street. My ideology does not come from books, reading, or being in lectures. My ideology comes from being a child of the street, living my entire childhood outside in Sheikh Jarrah, in the street from morning to night, talking to people and learning about the world. When you live under these circumstances, you have no option but to speak out.
Israeli occupation is infamous for, if not assassinating, then incarcerating dissidents, for the culture of fear they’ve implemented here. If I were to yell at a settler or soldier they would be like, I’m going to take you now. Then they have the nerve to say this is a democratic country. Sometimes I fear for my life or my loved ones, but most of the time I’m so sick of living here. And being able to speak, to use my words to talk about my reality, is the only thing I have left.
When I first started speaking about Palestine, I was maybe eleven years old. I went to the European parliament and I thought I was doing something. The journey between now and then is the fact that I’ve completely abandoned the politics of humanization, I’ve completely stopped trying to convince people of my worth as a human being, my ability to go to school, to have a father, a mother, memories like normal people. I’ve completely stopped talking about how our communities have women and children in them, as if some communities don’t. That’s the big leap: I’ve stopped trying to humanize myself because I think the issue in Palestine is not an issue of ignorance, it’s an issue of inaction.