“Ethnic Cleansing”: Amid Protests of Palestinian Evictions in Jerusalem, Israel Raids Al-Aqsa Mosque
By Amy Goodman* – Democracy Now!
Hundreds of Palestinians have been wounded after Israeli
forces raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque for the second time in four days, with reports
showing police fired rubber-coated bullets, stun grenades and tear gas at
Palestinian worshipers. Palestinians have been staging weeks of protests to
block Israel from evicting dozens of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah
neighborhood of Jerusalem to give their homes to Jewish settlers, which the
United Nations has described as a possible war crime. Mohammed El-Kurd, a
writer and poet who is organizing to save his family’s home in Sheikh Jarrah,
says the world is seeing colonialism in action in Palestine. “What’s happening
in Sheikh Jarrah today is nothing short of ethnic cleansing,” El-Kurd says in
an interview from Jerusalem. “We are seeing the Israeli government literally
doing everything it can to terrorize Palestinians, whereas Israeli settlers can
just walk around our neighborhoods, steal our homes and wield their guns, no
questions asked whatsoever.”
This is a rush
transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Hundreds of Palestinians have been wounded after
Israeli forces raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque this morning for the second time in
four days. Al Jazeera reports
Israelis fired rubber-coated bullets, tear gas and sound bombs at Palestinian
worshipers. Video posted online shows explosives, possibly stun grenades, being
fired inside the mosque, which is the third-holiest site in Islam.
A warning to our audience: This segment contains disturbing
Al Jazeera reports medical personnel were initially barred
from reaching the injured Palestinians. Eyewitnesses described a scene of
terror when Israeli forces began opening fire while people prayed.
EYEWITNESS: We were praying in the mosque. Suddenly, the
soldiers vacated the mosque without any alert. They started to shoot their
bombs. And there are many, dozens of injured, dozens of people who were injured
from the bombs here and bullets. It’s amazing. This is a praying place, not for
AMY GOODMAN: Al Jazeera reports 305 Palestinians were
wounded, 228 have been hospitalized, with seven in critical condition. Israeli
forces also attacked the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday, on a night when at least 205
Palestinians were injured.
Today’s raid came hours before Israeli nationalists were
scheduled to begin an annual march through occupied East Jerusalem to mark
Israel’s 1967 capture of the area along with the West Bank and Gaza. Tension
has been escalating in Jerusalem for weeks. On April 22nd, a group of
right-wing Israelis marched through the Old City chanting “Death to Arabs” and
“May your village burn.” Video from the night shows Israeli mobs attacking and
harassing Palestinian families and throwing rocks at Palestinian buses and
Meanwhile, Palestinians have been staging weeks of protests
to block Israel from evicting dozens of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah
neighborhood of Jerusalem to give their homes to Jewish settlers. A court
hearing on the evictions scheduled for today was postponed Sunday. The United Nations
has described the planned eviction as a possible war crime. U.N. rights office
spokesman Rupert Colville said last week, quote, “The occupying power cannot
confiscate private property in occupied territory.”
This comes as the Biden administration is coming under
increasing pressure to directly condemn Israel’s actions. Last week, the
governments of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain issued a joint call
for Israel to stop all settlement expansion in the Occupied Territories.
We go now to Jerusalem, where we’re joined by Mohammed
El-Kurd, a Palestinian writer and poet who’s organizing to save his family’s
home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem.
First, give us the overall picture, Mohammed, of what has
been happening. Describe what’s been happening at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and all
around the area, and then we’ll talk about al-Jarrah — Sheikh Jarrah.
MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Thank you, Amy. Yeah, thank you, Amy, and
it’s a pleasure to be here with you.
To sum up what’s been happening in Al-Aqsa Mosque, it’s
complete state-settler collusion. It’s clearly that the Israeli occupation
forces are working in service of the Israeli settlers to terrorize and assault
Palestinian worshipers. In their mosque today, Palestinians have been met with
rubber-coated bullets in the face and in the upper body, tear gas inside the
mosque at the women and the children praying in there, in addition to many
other forms of brute force.
The same thing is in Sheikh Jarrah, and this image becomes
even more stark when compared by how the Israeli occupation forces are treating
the settlers. Today, an Israeli settler ran over a Palestinian youth. And
instead of being captured, the Israeli police raised his gun at Palestinians
who were protesting this act of terrorism. So we’re seeing clear state-settler
violence and clear state-settler collusion in Jerusalem, in occupied Jerusalem.
AMY GOODMAN: And we’re just about to see this next march.
Can you explain what, quote, “Jerusalem Day” is and the significance of this
MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Definitely. It’s an infamous march that
I’ve witnessed all every single year of my life whereby Israeli settlers come
from all over occupied historic Palestine and chant genocidal, racist chants
against Palestinians. They destroy Palestinian property. One time a few years
ago, I came home from school, and I found the settlers sitting on my couch.
This is the extent by which they behave, because they know they have impunity,
because they know they are going to suffer zero consequences from their state,
which is a fascistic state to begin with.
AMY GOODMAN: How old are you, Mohammed?
MOHAMMED EL-KURD: I’m 22 years old.
AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to go to a video that’s gone viral
on social media. It shows your twin 22-year-old sister, Muna El-Kurd,
confronting an Israeli settler who’s been living in a part of your house in
Sheikh Jarrah for 12 years.
MUNA EL-KURD: Jacob, you know this is not your house.
JACOB: Yes, but if I go, you don’t go back. So what’s the
problem? Why are you yelling at me? I didn’t do this. I didn’t do this.
MUNA EL-KURD: But you —
JACOB: It’s easy to yell at me, but I didn’t do this.
MUNA EL-KURD: You are stealing my house.
JACOB: And if I don’t steal it, someone else is going to
MUNA EL-KURD: No, no one is allowed to steal it.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain this scene? And talk more
specifically about what’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah right now.
MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Absolutely. The scene that you saw, Amy,
is a scene of colonialism. People often think that colonialism is this archaic
concept or a concept of recent memory, but in fact it’s alive and well in
Palestine. And this is a colonizer that happens to be from Brooklyn, as you can
hear by the accent, who decided to find a home in my backyard.
This happens because we, as a community of refugees in
Sheikh Jarrah, have been battling billionaire-backed, often U.S.-registered
settler organizations that employ these people to come and live in our homes
and harass us and intimidate us. These people are not employed. These people
are not families. They just come to terrorize us. Yesterday, our next-door
neighbor Hjaj’s family, his roof was invaded by settlers wielding stones, bags
and bags of stones. What’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah today is nothing short of
ethnic cleansing. To help the people understand Sheikh —
AMY GOODMAN: But just to understand, I mean, this man who is
in your yard, this guy you said who’s from Brooklyn, explain how your family
— your house got half-occupied in 2009? You’re living with them?
MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Yeah. I mean, yes, in 2009, we were coming
home from school, and we found that the entire neighborhood was on lockdown. It
was besieged from all areas, and there were more occupation forces and settlers
than there were residents of the neighborhood. And they used tear gas and sound
bombs and stun grenades to take over our home. And these settlers, these
thieves, have squatted in our home since then. And obviously you cannot resist
this, or otherwise you will be shot and killed. We know how the Israeli occupation
forces behave around Palestinians. We know how they target Palestinians.
But I wanted to add that this is just a microcosm. You know,
I know it sounds bizarre that an Israeli settler is taking over half of my
home, and likely they will be taking over the entirety of the neighborhood
should no international action be taken. But it’s not as absurd when you put it
in the context how the state of Israel came about. It came about by destroying
and burning hundreds and hundreds of Palestinian cities and villages and taking
over Palestinians’ homes. Today, all over historic Palestine, there are
settlers who are living in homes that were once Palestinian.
AMY GOODMAN: In response to the violent crackdown of
Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem, Congressmember Rashida Tlaib, whose
parents are Palestinian immigrants, tweeted this weekend, “Too many are silent
or dismissive as our U.S. tax dollars continue to be used for this kind of
inhumanity. I am tired of people functioning from a place of fear rather than doing
what’s right because of the bullying by pro-Israel lobbyists. This is
apartheid, plain and simple.”
Meanwhile, New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
tweeted Saturday, “We stand in solidarity with the Palestinian residents of
Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. Israeli forces are forcing families from their
homes during Ramadan and inflicting violence. It is inhumane and the US must
show leadership in safeguarding the human rights of Palestinians.” She also
condemned U.S. aid to Israeli forces and other repressive governments around
the world, tweeting, “From the paramilitary violence in Colombia and Sheikh
Jarrah, to the detention of children on our own border and the militarization
of US police departments, the [United States] must seriously assess its role in
state violence and condition aid.”
So, talk about this place that is your home, your family’s
home. This is a flashpoint for so much of what’s happening — as you said,
a microcosm. Explain what the judge’s ruling has been. Court was supposed to go
into session today, but they’ve canceled the hearing because of the level of
violence right now.
MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean, we think
that this is a stalling on the Israeli judicial system’s part. I want to make
clear to all people watching that although we go to these courts, we do not
believe in their jurisdiction over us. We are simply buying time in our homes.
At the end of the day, these are colonial courts. These are courts that were
built by and for Israeli settlers to uphold Jewish supremacy. And the Israeli
authorities are unabashed and explicit in maintaining this Jewish dominance in
Jerusalem over the indigenous Palestinians. We are waiting, but we are not
expecting much of a settler judge and a settler jury, to be completely honest
I am glad, on congressional level, people are speaking out
against this and, on a grassroots level internationally, people are speaking
out against this. Every single year, Israel receives $3.8 billion in military
aid. Biden has been consistent in refusing the idea of conditioning military
aid to Israel. I don’t want him to condition it; I want him to end it
altogether. And I want him to end any kind of military aid to any country that
has a police brutality problem, like Colombia. But obviously, this necessitates
the United States acknowledging that it has an imperialism problem to begin
with. So we do call on the Biden administration to take action against the
evictions, that are a war crime, but I also will not forget that my home — half
of my home and my neighbors’ home, Ghawi and Hannoun families, were taken under
the Obama administration with Biden as the vice president.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about what the Biden
administration has said. You have the national security adviser Jake Sullivan
saying the United States has “serious concerns” about the violent clashes
between Palestinians and Jerusalem. He told Israeli national security adviser
Meir Ben-Shabbat U.S. officials will “press for steps to ensure calm,
deescalate tensions and denounce violence,” adding that the launching of rocket
attacks from Gaza towards Israel is “unacceptable and must be condemned.” That,
again, the Israeli national security adviser. If you can respond to this? So,
he has expressed, quote, “serious concerns.” Last week, the governments of
France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain issued a joint call for Israel to
stop all settlement expansion in the Occupied Territories.
MOHAMMED EL-KURD: We welcome all of the international
condemnations that we are seeing from countries, be it the United States or
otherwise, but we want more than just condemnations. We want Israel to be held
accountable for its crimes against Palestinians. The Biden administration and
the language of a false equivalency continue to uphold this occupation. I think
you can deescalate the situation and the tension and the violence in Jerusalem
by ending the occupation. That is the only solution. It is insane for
Palestinians to continue living under this occupation for 73 years.
What’s the situation in Jerusalem isn’t that there’s a
Palestinian Authority and other Palestinian parties involved. There’s
Palestinian people, grassroots individuals without any kind of leadership, who
are finally saying no and continually saying no to ethnic cleansing in
Jerusalem and otherwise. And there’s an occupier, an occupying entity that is
using brute force and fascism and apartheid to suppress any kind of peaceful
protest or any kind of protest altogether.
In the past two weeks, our neighbors’ homes and our own
homes have been sprayed with skunk water that I can smell them from a few
blocks. We’ve had so much stun grenades and tear gas. My own brother — not that
he’s different from other people, but my own brother has been arrested. Many,
many people have been arrested. A person lost his eyes in Al-Aqsa Mosque. We
are seeing the Israeli government terrorizing Palestinians. We are seeing the
Israeli government literally doing everything it can to terrorize Palestinians,
whereas Israeli sellers can just walk around our neighborhoods, steal our homes
and wield their guns, no questions asked whatsoever. They can invade our homes
and be told, “All is good,” by a police officer. And they can just go back, no
consequences. There’s clear asymmetry here. I think apartheid is an
understatement, but it’s a good starting point. This settler colonialism in
Palestine must stop, because it’s killing all of us.
AMY GOODMAN: Human Rights Watch using that term,
“apartheid,” to describe what’s happening in the Occupied Territories for the
first time last month. I want to turn to a Palestinian man named Mahmoud
al-Marbua, who witnessed the Israeli assault on the Al-Aqsa Mosque Saturday.
MAHMOUD AL-MARBUA: [translated] They don’t want us to pray.
There’s a fight every day. Every day, there are clashes. Every day, there are
troubles. They’ve been stopping us from entering inside the Old City for a
whole week. Why? They did not allow us in yesterday. Why? Why are they doing
this to us? They’re making us crazy. They’re making us explode. Look at how
they’re firing at us. How can we live? Is this a normal life? What is this?
Look at the problems. Look at how they’re standing around. They are throwing
bombs at us, and they can’t see anyone.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Mohammed, as we begin to wrap up now, you
live between here and Sheikh Jarrah, where you went back to with all that is
happening there and to protect your family home. Can you talk about what you
see happening? I mean, is it conceivable, by the end of the week, the Israeli
prime minister, who himself has been indicted for corruption, Benjamin
Netanyahu, might not even be the prime minister anymore? And does that even
make a difference with who is the leadership in the Israeli government?
MOHAMMED EL-KURD: I think as long the leadership is
spearheaded by settlers, then settlements will prevail in our countries. I do
not want to be living under Israeli rule, to begin with, and I don’t rely on
the Israeli authorities, on the Israeli occupation forces to protect me,
although they are mandated to do so under international law. I think it’s
pointless for us to expect a person who is beating us up, assaulting us,
terrorizing us to be told to stop and then have them stop. There must be
international intervention. There must be sanctions against the Israeli
government. That is the only way. The occupation must end.
And it’s also important to note that what’s been happening
in Sheikh Jarrah is not new, and it’s not unique, and it hasn’t started or
ended with an Israeli prime minister. It’s happening in Silwan, where a hundred
homes are being demolished and 1,000 people will be homeless. It’s happening in
the South Hebron Hills, where people’s villages are being declared as military
zones and green zones. It’s happening all across historic Palestine. It’s the
Israeli colonialism that started in 1948, and it continues to do so. The only
difference is it replaced weapons and artillery with a judicial system that is
inherently colonial. So I call on the international community, but also I call
on people, free people in the world, to take action against this, to end the
Israeli occupation of Palestine altogether. It’s not just about Sheikh Jarrah.
It’s about the entirety of Palestine, that is being devoured by the beast of
AMY GOODMAN: Mohammed El-Kurd, I want to thank you so much
for being with us, writer and poet from Jerusalem in occupied Palestine,
organizing to save his family’s home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of
Jerusalem. His debut book Rifqa will be released by Haymarket Books later this
Award-winning investigative journalist and syndicated columnist, author and
host/executive producer of Democracy Now! www.democracynow.org