This content was published on 06 June 2021 – 09:58
For decades, Sheikh Jarrah was considered just another neighborhood in East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel, but his story went viral on social media since protests began against plans to expel Palestinian families living there.
“We have managed … not only to draw attention to the settlements in Jerusalem, but also to the rights of the Palestinians to defend themselves, their right to resist the occupier and the right to their own narrative,” said Muhamed el-Kurd .
The 23-year-old poet and writer, one of those who could lose his home, has worked to publicize the case in his neighborhood, and has more than 180,000 followers on Twitter and more than half a million on Instagram.
“From the beginning of the campaign, our message has been very clear, we are talking about colonialism and settlements, not just human rights abuses,” he said.
On Sunday, her twin sister Mona, also very active in the #SheikhJarrah campaign, was detained by the Israeli police. Muhamed was absent at the time of the arrest, but received a summons to go to the police station in East Jerusalem, his father said.
The protests in Sheikh Jarrah spread to the Esplanade of the Mosques in May, prompting a harsh Israeli response against the Palestinians there.
The crackdown sparked an 11-day war between the Jewish state and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, which in turn sparked global pro-Palestinian protests.
The hashtags #SheijJarrah and #SalvenSheijJarrah went viral. Celebrities including actors Mark Ruffalo and Viola Davis and Manchester City footballer Riyad Mahrez posted comments about the neighborhood on social media.
– “Unprecedented change” –
Kurd called Sheikh Jarrah’s situation “a tiny sample of Zionist colonialism in Jerusalem and Palestine in general.”
“Everyone could see that we faced a racist legal system that was created to protect and support the settlers,” he added.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it, which was not recognized by the international community.
Under Israeli law, Jewish groups can claim land that belonged to them before Israel’s founding in 1948, even though Palestinian families have been living on it for decades.
But Palestinians who became refugees in the 1948 war have no way to regain their homes or land in Israel.
The Israeli human rights organization Ir Amin says that up to 1,000 Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and the neighboring Silwan district could be displaced.
Outside his home, half of which was occupied by a Jewish settler, Kurd said he goes online.
“We have seen an unprecedented shift in world public opinion,” said Kurd, who is pursuing a master’s degree in the United States.
“I think what made the #SalvenSheijJarrah hashtag a success was the narrative we used,” he said.
In his view, “people have begun to understand the case of Sheikh Jarrah and colonialism in general in Jerusalem.”
“Even if we cannot save the houses, we have done something very big,” he said.
– Silenced Palestinians –
Palestinian families in the neighborhood say they received keys to their homes from the UN agency for Palestinian refugees and Jordan, which controlled East Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967.
In May, as tensions escalated that led to the clashes in Gaza, the Israeli justice postponed a hearing on Sheikh Jarrah’s cases.
But Kurd says he doesn’t trust Israeli justice.
He also warned of apparent attempts by social media platforms to silence Palestinian activists, including uploading images of Israeli security forces in violent actions against protesters.
Sada Social, a digital rights advocacy organization, says in May alone it documented more than 700 cases where networks have restricted access to, or even removed, Palestinian content.
“We came to be unable to publish anything about Sheikh Jarrah without him being removed,” Kurd said.
“We received many warnings that our accounts would be eliminated, and sometimes our visits fell from a quarter of a million to 90,000 or just 5,000,” he added.
Despite the obstacles, he said he was surprised by the impact of the campaign.
“I did not believe that a post or a photo could really change anything (…) but I discovered that our first and last battle is of words, the battle of narratives and public opinion,” he said.
And for the residents of Sheikh Jarrah, it is a fight they cannot afford to lose.
“We cannot drop the issue,” Kurd said. “The moment we do, our houses will be robbed.”