Palestine (TFC) – This Friday young Palestinian poet and author Mohammed El Kurd turns 17. He prefers not to celebrate his birthday, which falls on Nakba Day. The word nakba means catastrophe in Arabic, and on May 15th, people all over the world commemorate the forced expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians as a result of the creation of the State of Israel. During the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, over five hundred Palestinian villages and towns were destroyed expelling half of the region’s population.
Half of the population, expelled. Allow that to sink in.
Six years ago, a group of radical Israeli settlers stormed Mohammed’s family’s home in occupied East Jerusalem and took over the front half of the house. To this day, transient groups of Jewish settlers remain in half of the home in one of the most extraordinary examples of Israel’s settlement enterprise.
Numerous atrocities and massacres were carried out against the Palestinian population by Zionist paramilitaries and the Israeli army in the creation of Israel. Ensuring a Jewish majority was retained, laws were passed granting Jews from anywhere in the world the right to become citizens. The Entry into Israel Law was created, which prevented Palestinians and residents of ‘enemy states’ from gaining citizenship or permanent residency, reportedly in the interest of national security.
“We shall try to spirit the penniless [Palestinian] population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country… expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.” Theodor Herzl, father of modern political Zionism
67 years on, millions of Palestinian refugees remain in cinder block structures in overcrowded camps in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, as well as those internally displaced in what became Israel. The majority are dependent on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for survival.
The UN estimates that there are now over 51 million people in the world displaced by conflict and persecution. Palestine has always had the highest number of refugees, some displaced more than once after fleeing war-stricken surrounding countries. Despite refugees abandoning homes during conflict having the legal right to return, Israel’s disdain for international law has systematically denied these rights to millions.
In both present day Israel and the West Bank, the Palestinian catastrophe of forced expulsion and dispossession continues to this day as the Israeli High Court regularly gives a green light to demolish villages and forcibly transfer residents. Planning for Palestinian villages located in Israeli Controlled Area C is undertaken by military planning committees with no Palestinian representation. Court-approved dispossession prevents residents from building on their own land despite their attempts to propose master plans and obtain permits. Under military occupation, anything can be justified in the name of security.
Over 28,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished by Israel since the beginning of the occupation according to the Israeli Committee against Home Demolitions. Residents are often given the choice to either demolish their own home or pay demolition costs.
Let’s just pause for a second and imagine having to demolish your own home.
Inside the green line in present-day Israel, half the Bedouin population lives in towns and villages unrecognised by the state. The village of al-Araqib has been demolished 83 times and the residents are currently camped out in a cemetery. This week they were instructed to pay the Israeli authorities more than $500,000 in demolition costs.
After a battle spanning over three decades, the Israeli court issued a final ruling this week to expel over 300 inhabitants of Susiya village in the South Hebron Hills. In 1986, Israel declared the village an archaeological site, evicting residents and forcing them to move onto nearby agricultural land. In 2012, villagers were issued with further demolition orders for over 50 shelters, despite their attempts to submit a master plan. Local activists are currently calling for a permanent international protective presence in the village.
Anyone sensing a theme?
”Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements, because everything we take now will stay ours. Everything we don’t grab will go to them.” Ariel Sharon (2001)
In defiance of the Geneva Convention, the population of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem now tops half a million, and grows at twice the rate of Israel’s overall population. Ranging in size from large cities to scruffy hilltop outposts, Israeli settlements and their surrounding infrastructure have created a Swiss cheese effect in the West Bank. Only international players in their political window dressing still talk about ‘Two States’ while Netanyahu vows to increase settlement construction and reveals an Israel that is more than happy with the status quo.
Mohammed had his final exams this week and he’s confident they’ve gone well. By the age of 16, he had penned his autobiography ‘Tomorrow is never coming’ from his Star of David daubed family home. With chapters entitled ‘Born on the day of the catastrophe’, ‘Jerusalem – the Divine Crime Scene’ and ‘16 year old terrorist’, he confronts religion, gender discrimination and injustice using poetry and prose. When he was 14, he wrote to President Obama, a letter which was later printed in The Guardian.
When asked what he would like to say to the President today, he was grateful for the question:
‘’America hasn’t had a black president yet. I’m waiting for a president who brings justice to the black community. Where was he when the Ferguson stuff was happening? Why doesn’t he do stuff for them? Is he just a face? I mean, he has power and power can change things. He has eyes, eyes can see things. Use your power, use your eyes to see what’s happening here and fix it. Hold Israel accountable for every crime it has committed. The International community is hypocritical, where were you when Israel was established? People are being killed here every day. Where are you? What is the world doing about history being changed by a book that was written thousands of years ago? What are you doing about the stealing of heritage and identity vandalism? If history had a tongue it would rant and scream and tell the truth but unfortunately it doesn’t, it is hard to find the truth these days. I would ask Obama to stand in my shoes for 15 minutes and see things from my perspective.’’
Mohammed blogs here.