Since the age of 12, Muna al-Kurd and her twin brother, Mohammed, have been documenting Israeli settlers’ attempts to seize homes in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
At 23, the pair have become a global symbol against tyranny for defending the neighborhood against the abuses of Israeli authorities.
“We opened our eyes to the world with the presence of settlers in the neighborhood and settlement associations trying to seize the homes of Palestinians in it,” Muna al-Kurd said in an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency. “We have been experiencing this threat all our lives.”
Al-Kurd said their defense of Sheikh Jarrah began when they were children at a time when social media was not widely used. And their struggle continues to this day. “We are still talking about Sheikh Jarrah, and we are not bored,” she said.
Al-Kurd, who earned a degree in communications and journalism, belongs to one of 28 Palestinian families who face the threat of eviction.
She is one of the Palestinian women leading protests against Israel’s forced evictions and threats of displacement in Sheikh Jarrah.
She was briefly detained alongside her brother by Israeli forces on June 6 following a raid on their home in the neighborhood.
In April, an Israeli court ruled to evict eight Palestinian families from their homes in favor of settlement groups, triggering tension across Palestinian territories.
The burden of fame
Following the launch of the #Save Sheikh Jarrah Neighborhood campaign in March, al-Kurd’s popularity spiked, where she garnered more than 1.5 million followers on Instagram and thousands of followers on other social media platforms. But she said the fame comes with a heavy burden.
“It is a heavy burden, and perhaps I was put in this place against my will. Since I was a child, I have raised the case of Sheikh Jarrah and said that the settlers took half of my house and took over the homes of our neighbors,” she said.
But al-Kurd noted the global humanitarian support for the case of Sheikh Jarrah thanks to a three-month social media campaign which has “united all the residents of the neighborhood” and residents now share the burden.
“The idea of the ‘Save Sheikh Jarrah Neighborhood’ campaign came spontaneously, after we, as residents of the neighborhood, failed to get any positive response from all governmental, human rights and international doors,” al-Kurd said. “We, as young people living in the era of social media, decided to go toward an electronic media campaign as our last glimmer of hope. What is required is that people know, at least, what is happening in this Jerusalem neighborhood.”
The main goal of the campaign is “to make people know that there are 500 people who can be expelled from their homes into the street at any moment,” she said.
But she did not expect the “massive reaction” in support of the campaign.
“We did not expect that millions of people around the world, in such a short period of time, believed in our cause and that it affected them personally.”
Just cause against fascist occupation
In the aftermath of the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians by Zionist gangs to pave the way for the creation of the state of Israel, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced to flee their homes in historical Palestine to neighboring countries.
Following those events, which came to be known to Palestinians as “Nakba,” or the Catastrophe, 28 families settled in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem in 1956, hoping it would be the last time they would be forced from their homes.
Israeli settlement associations, however, claim that the homes are built on land that was owned by Jews before 1948 and have since the 1970s demanded the evacuation of Palestinian families.
The associations have succeeded in recent years to evict three families. The remaining families fear facing the same fate.
Al-Kurd said she hopes the awareness raised through the social media campaign contributes to stopping the evictions.
“I do not want to exaggerate in my expectations or say that we are dealing with a just entity (Israel). We are realistic, and we realize that we are dealing with a fascist colonial Zionist entity that does not want any Palestinian Arab presence in all of Palestine, not only in Jerusalem,” she said. “I do not believe in the justice of the apartheid colonial courts that examine our cases, because, in the end, the judge himself is an Israeli settler who made laws to serve the settlements and settlers, but we are forced to deal with these courts.”
Al-Kurd said she counts on popular movement “whether on the ground or on social media platforms to exert political pressure on governments so as to pile pressure on Israel.”
“I am hopeful,” al-Kurd stated. “The whole world has risen up, and people in many capitals have taken to the streets to say: Enough, we do not want a new catastrophe. Enough of occupation and colonialism. It is time for us to live freely on our entire Palestinian land.”
Defending our houses
Israeli authorities have postponed a final decision on the eviction orders until December following Palestinian mass protests, including 11 days of fighting between Israel and Palestinian resistance groups in Gaza, and international pressure.
The Israeli Supreme Court in charge of the Sheikh Jarrah file is set to hold a session before July 20 to begin examining petitions of families who are against the decision to evict.
Al-Kurd, however, is concerned that the decision will be negative.
She cautioned that Israeli authorities may resort to delay tactics in an attempt to drain activists of their enthusiasm and claim global political pressure to make the world forget about Sheikh Jarrah.
Meanwhile, protests against the eviction plans continue.
Al-Kurd is wary there are fears that people will eventually lose hope in the case or get bored. However, she noted that the case is not new and has been in Israeli courts for the past 49 years.
“I feel all the time that the people of Sheikh Jarrah are counting on us. If we remain silent, people will remain silent, and if we move, they will move with us,” she said.
Al-Kurd, who spends long hours campaigning on social media, admits the task is “daunting and stressful” but also insists that it is her duty to defend her house.
“It is tiring, but it is my duty because these are our own homes that we do not want to leave,” she said. “If I don’t talk about it, who will?”
*Writing by Ibrahim Mukhtar in Ankara
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