‘Mr President, I’m sure you know everything’ — a Palestinian boy expelled from half his home urges US action

Israel/Palestine
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Obama’s impending visit to Israel and Palestine has already made possible two achievements in the struggle to free Palestine. One: Mohammed El Kurd, 14, hero of the vibrant documentary, My Neighbourhood, about the ethnic cleansing of Sheikh Jarrah in illegally Occupied East Jerusalem, eloquently appeals for justice in an open letter to the President (full text below).

Two: The Guardian kindly offers us a chance to watch the entire 25-minute film (by Julia Bacha, Rebekah Wingert-Jabi, and Budrus creators Just Vision) about Mohammed’s resilience in the midst of the joint Palestinian and Israeli protests against the racist, violent thefts. 

In his letter, Mohammed asks Obama the obvious, which is rarely heard in the dominant U.S. press: “I hope in the future you will stop giving military aid to support Israel’s illegal occupation of my people.” He beseeches the President to “see our situation for yourself,” even though, he says, “It’s not like you don’t know what’s happening here. I’m sure you know everything.”

The young man talks hauntingly of his old life, “This was once a beautiful neighbourhood. Everybody was so close, and before part of my house was evicted, I was never afraid of going to sleep.” He details the heartbreaking effects of the Jewish colonists stealing half his house: “The little kids wet their beds. My sister couldn’t sleep. The settlers have a dog in our house and every time it went past, she wet herself.”

Mohammed says that the confiscation “tore us apart. We were one big family, and now everyone lives in a different city. We are extremely uncomfortable and uncertain about what is going to happen here. Children my age and much younger are regularly arrested, interrogated and beaten by Israeli police, and violently attacked by settlers. For most of my life I have felt unsafe and threatened in my own neighbourhood and even in my own home.”

Valiant Mohammed reveals what our media fears to say, that our government pays to silence Palestinian aspirations: “US military aid to Israel is used directly against unarmed Palestinian demonstrators. I hope in the future you will stop giving military aid to support Israel’s illegal occupation of my people.”

Young El Kurd–old before his time, like so many of his land– pleads “that you and others will not remain silent while our homes are taken, children are arrested and injured, and our future threatened.”  

He culminates by linking the wrong-filled present and risk-filled future to the past, by requesting simple justice for of all peoples purged from their homes: “Mr President, we want our houses back. And our pre-1948 land. It’s not fair what’s happening here, and most of the world doesn’t realise it. So if I had one wish I would get everyone’s rights back.”  He ends by connecting our small to our greater duty: restoration, “From a little ball they stole from a boy in the street to a big farm they stole from a grandfather.”

My Neighbourhood, equally affecting,–previously available only in clips and rare online or public screenings– was discussed by Ira Glunts and Allison Deger.

So I’ll only add that the film highlights the stakes in Obama’s trip to Palestine and Israel, upending both his old and new justifications for the maintenance of a Jewish state – the ancient Biblical script and recent Nazi horrors, alike.

After showing the violence of Israeli-Jewish invaders pushing out Mohammed’s family, the documentary displays a colonist living in the stolen house, excusing his own larceny: “The Bible says that this area in this country belongs to the Jewish people. This is Jewish land and the Jewish need to live here” (6:44). He adds, “We have not finished the job, we are going to the next neighborhood and the next….” We see colonists taunt Palestinians: “Soon enough you will be sleeping in the trash cans of Ramallah,” adding, “In blood, in fire, we will kick out the Arabs” (10:54).  

The film movingly depicts how this brutality, and Israeli-government support for such theft, has moved some Israeli Jews to gather support for the Palestinian families’ resistance. Siblings Zvi and Sarah Benninga explain why they help lead the protest against the Sheikh Jarrah evictions.  They cannot live with the unjust Israeli “state” and “law,” which–having declared East Jerusalem “Jewish” before 1948–license any Jewish person to grab it, while barring the actual Palestinian owners who can prove that they’ve owned it since 1956, from even petitioning the court (14:00). Zvi declares that the colonists “terrorise” Palestinians.

The Benningas’ parents, slower to protest but persuaded by their children to join, offer radical reasons for demonstrating. Both were raised in America and at first loved their new Israeli life.  Terry, their mother, recalls, “They [her kids] forced me,” because “their activities” tacitly posed the question,“Where were you when something was happening? Stand up and be counted!” (16:00).

Simon, the father–the last to demonstrate–adds the clincher: “whenever my children get arrested, it brings up very, very bad memories for me” (18:00).  Simon connects the lessons of Nazi Germany to his children’s activism against the Occupation, as the film juxtaposes scenes of Israeli police violently suppressing dissent:

“I’m the child of Holocaust survivors, and the few people in my family who survived were helped by righteous people. We grew up very much knowing that just and righteous and brave people can make a difference.” Simon concludes, “That’s a message we imparted to our children, and I think they’re living out this message in circumstances that are appropriate to what is going on in Jerusalem” (18:49).

My Neighbourhood reminds us why we—including even “Ofra Ben-Arzi, PM Netanyahu’s sister-in-law,” work to free Palestine: “Where there is injustice and human rights violations, and people are being thrown out of their homes, I have an obligation to be here” (21:00). As 10-year-old Mohammed El-Kurd exhorts us in the film, “Wake up, Wake up!” (3:00).

*****
Below is Mohammed El Kurd’s searing letter in full, from The Guardian:

“Dear President Obama,
I am 14 and live in the Palestinian Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem. Almost four years ago my family and I were evicted from part of our home by Israeli settlers, backed by Israeli court decisions. The process has made life almost unbearable for me and tens of thousands of Palestinians. Settlers are working towards Jewish control of all of East Jerusalem, at times using violence against Palestinians.
This was once a beautiful neighbourhood. Everybody was so close, and before part of my house was evicted, I was never afraid of going to sleep. We used to have no worries. Now it doesn’t feel like a Palestinian neighbourhood any more. All the signs are in Hebrew, and the music too.
The people who’ve been evicted have lost financially and emotionally. My father has stopped going to work for almost a year, because it was so crowded and dangerous and every day there was tension and violence, so he couldn’t just leave us alone in the house with the settlers. The little kids wet their beds. My sister couldn’t sleep. The settlers have a dog in our house and every time it went past, she wet herself.
This thing that happened tore us apart. We were one big family, and now everyone lives in a different city. We are extremely uncomfortable and uncertain about what is going to happen here. Children my age and much younger are regularly arrested, interrogated and beaten by Israeli police, and violently attacked by settlers. For most of my life I have felt unsafe and threatened in my own neighbourhood and even in my own home.
Mr President, you have the power to change that. The most simple thing you could do is see our situation for yourself and speak out about it, to see the reality and talk about what you see. It’s not like you don’t know what’s happening here. I’m sure you know everything.
On this trip I hope that you will speak out against the Israeli government’s role in supporting the settlers and pressure the Israeli government to change its policies. US military aid to Israel is used directly against unarmed Palestinian demonstrators. I hope in the future you will stop giving military aid to support Israel’s illegal occupation of my people.
I also hope that in the future justice will return to the people. I hope the world will begin to speak out against the oppression we face in my neighbourhood and [the oppression] against all Palestinians. That you and others will not remain silent while our homes are taken, children are arrested and injured, and our future threatened.
Mr President, we want our houses back. And our pre-1948 land. It’s not fair what’s happening here, and most of the world doesn’t realise it. So if I had one wish I would get everyone’s rights back. From a little ball they stole from a boy in the street to a big farm they stole from a grandfather.”

9 Responses

  1. seafoid
    March 19, 2013, 10:36 am

    link to ft.com

    ““I don’t think anything is going to change now,” says Ahmed Ghoul, who runs a butcher shop in the area and holds US citizenship. “In America, anybody who talks about the Israeli occupation is anti-Semitic; the power of Aipac keeps it that way,” he says of the influential pro-Israel Jewish-American lobby group.

    Nearby Daniela Silber, a settler pulling her minivan into the settlement’s parking garage, complains about having to drive to other parts of Jerusalem to shop because of tensions in the area. “It’s far and it’s closed, and we have a lot of children,” she says. “It’s very hostile. We cannot go by foot.” She too is sceptical about the president’s visit. “I think he doesn’t understand the real issues we have here.””

  2. seafoid
    March 19, 2013, 10:52 am

    link to haaretz.com

    “An Israeli soldier has written “there is nothing better than a dead Arab” on his Facebook page, the second IDF soldier to post strongly anti-Arab sentiment on social media in as many months.

    “The Arabs are the cancer of this country and must be dealt with,” wrote the soldier, a member of the Israel Defense Forces’ Golani Brigade. “There is nothing better than a dead Arab.”

    The soldier also referred to a bus crash in Jordan last week in which Palestinians died. “I’m glad Arabs were killed,” he wrote. “I”ll be happy if not one Arab remains here, and I’m sorry only 14 were killed.””

  3. yourstruly
    March 19, 2013, 11:16 am

    on the eve of passover, 2013

    comparing the status of a jew living in egypt during the time of the pharoahs

    with the status of a jew living in occupied palestine today

    way back then in egypt?

    the status of a lowly slave

    in occupied palestine today?

    the status of a high and mighty slaveowner

    redemption for said slaveowner?

    justice for palestine

  4. kalithea
    March 19, 2013, 11:29 am

    My advice to Palestinians: Do not pin your hopes on Obama. This is the sad reality: Obama doesn’t care about justice for the oppressed and has zero compassion. Even many Americans feel their constitutional rights compromised under Obama. Obama won the Presidency when Israelis were pounding Gaza with Cast Lead killing hundreds of children and he was pathetically mute and deferred to his predecessor. He witnessed the slaughter of innocent children and bumbled his way through a lame, cowardly statement. And today, he resorts to drones that kill children in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    Please don’t feel bad; others care and are speaking out on your behalf. Zionism is doomed to self-destruct; it’s just a matter of time. Resist this oppression; don’t give up; don’t give in; stay and fight for your rights! Don’t surrender your land to Zionist thugs and bullies! STAY because time is on YOUR side and Justice too will be on YOUR side one day.

    The last thing Palestinians need is to receive Obama after he’s spent hours groveling for love in Israel and then finally offers Palestinians crumbs off the table he set for Israelis. Obama only cares about winning over those who detest and repeatedly humiliate him and play hard to get; everyone else he takes for granted and ignores. Do you really believe this pathetic, narcissistic character who only cares about his image and political legacy can help free you from the scourge of Zionism?

    Yes, you should be in his face; yes, you should shame him with your enlightenment, but don’t count on his help. Count on your own strength; you have proven to be amazingly courageous and resilient despite American ignorance. YOU WILL PREVAIL. In the higher scheme of life; Zionism is an ILLUSION and delusional; and it shall pass. No injustice of this magnitude shall prevail in a divine universal plan. Remember the wheels of justice grind slowly, but fine, so unite, hold on, hang tight and live to fight another day.

    I have a feeling your generation will one day be free in PALESTINE. Keep this image in your heart.

  5. amigo
    March 19, 2013, 12:44 pm

    From Yousef Munayyer “After the depopulation, an Israeli member of the MAPAI secretariat remarked in 1949: “The landscape is also more beautiful. I enjoy it, especially when traveling between Haifa and Tel Aviv, and there is not a single Arab to be seen.”

    link link to aljazeera.com

  6. Erasmus
    March 19, 2013, 1:34 pm

    Despite all disappointments – I refuse to give up hope
    Despite all frustrations hereto with Obama I – performance wrt to the I-P-conflict, i even refuse to give up all hopes wrt to Obama….. until yet proven (again) to the contrary.

    When speaking to the Israeli Youth /students, Obama has the floor. The world’s cameras are on him. He will speak to all Israelis and the world at large.
    Nobody knows what exactly he will say. Obama might be hitting hard. After all, Obama has to settle some scores with Netanyahoo, has he not?

    He may also make use of this opportunity to tell his Israeli audience what they hardly hear and could even interrupt his speech for showing a few selected video sequences wrt to the reality of the occupation , as Palestinians have to endure since decades; day-in and day-out, not to forget the nights, when the Israeli Army harasses sleeping Palestinian homes and make their routine arrests.

    The documentary “5 broken cameras ” could possibly well serve for this purpose.
    Other video material equally suited should be readily available in abundance.

  7. Les
    March 19, 2013, 4:12 pm

    Let’s see if Obama succumbs and takes action to pardon Pollard.

    Jonathan Pollard is no Prisoner of Zion
    The ‘Free Pollard’ campaign ahead of Obama’s visit is a disgrace to American Zionists and U.S.-Israel relations. The bare truth is that he committed espionage for financial gain and glory.
    By Barbara Opall-Rome | 14:31 17.03.13

    It was galling enough, during the last U.S. presidential visit here in May 2008, to see Rafi Eitan, the mastermind of the Jonathan Pollard spy fiasco, sitting smugly in the Knesset alongside other government ministers as George W. Bush paid tribute to the unbreakable alliance and even deeper friendship binding the two…

    link to haaretz.com

  8. Kathleen
    March 20, 2013, 8:17 am

    So vile, so sick. Why do we call these vile, racist people settlers they are thieves. Not settlers thieves. Watching these thieves steal the Palestinians home is so infuriating. I have no idea how the Palestinian families stay calm in the face of such racism and brutality. That thief with the white shirt on laying claim to the land/house because of what he claims the Bible says is so arrogant and full of himself it was difficult to watch. Please call your Reps…enough of U.S. aid supporting apartheid.

    • Kathleen
      March 20, 2013, 8:56 am

      Over the last 10 years has been so good to see Jews in Israel and the occupied territories as well as here in the states starting to stand up for justice. Been a long time coming. So good to see. And whether the reason for this shift is coming from compassion of because they want to save the two state solution it is happening, Zvi seems to be coming from a truly compassionate place. Do unto others. How wonderful. And the crowds continue to build…hope

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