Ten years ago, I walked down a tiled pathway in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and was led into a room where an old woman was sitting amid a pile of boxes and packed suitcases.
What kept Rifqa al-Kurd there, sitting among her boxes? She gave a one word reply: ‘Sumud’, which roughly translates as steadfastness
The first thing I noticed about Rifqa al-Kurd was the burning intensity of her eyes. She told me that she lived out of boxes because she was expecting the police to throw her out of her house and for the settlers to move in at any moment. When that happened, she explained, she did not want her clothes thrown into the street. Hence the packed bags.
She had been through this before, when she was evicted from her home in Haifa in 1948. What kept her there, sitting among her boxes? She gave a one word reply: “Sumud”, which roughly translates as steadfastness.
Rifqa died last year, still in the home that had been given to her by the Jordanian government and UNWRA. Her son Nabil explained to me how settlers had moved into an extension he built, which the municipal authorities said was illegal.
Nabil, somewhat greyer now, has taken his mother’s place standing picket outside their house, number 13, next to a wall, graffitied with “We will not leave” in Arabic. His daughter and Rifqa’s granddaughter, Mona al-Kurd, filmed the video that has since gone viral of Jewish settlers with thick Brooklyn accents barging their way into her home: “If I don’t steal your home, someone else will steal it,” one said.
Far from over
When I met the al-Kurd family and wrote about Rifqa, no one took the slightest notice of her or Sheikh Jarrah. I had to explain to my editor where Sheikh Jarrah was and even then, I don’t think he got it. The Arab Spring was the only story in town, and not for the first time, Palestinians were told their conflict was old news.
Today, Sheikh Jarrah is the subject of statements from the UN, the US State Department, and politicians across the spectrum in Britain. Demonstrations are being held in Downing Street, Chicago and Berlin. And Mona al-Kurd has a global online audience. So, I can personally attest to one fact about the last few days of mayhem in Sheikh Jarrah, Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Damascus Gate: Israel is far from done with the Palestinian conflict.
Last year, Israel’s national religious right proclaimed that it had won this conflict and that the Palestinians should do the decent thing, and come out waving a white flag. Former US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel turned the opening of the US embassy partly into an evangelical service, partly into a victory parade. “What a glorious day for Israel. We are in Jerusalem and we are here to stay,” Jared Kushner proclaimed at the opening ceremony. In Gaza on the same day, as Kushner crowed, more than 50 people were killed by Israeli forces.
Then came the so-called Abraham Accords when the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain normalised relations with Israel.
In an op-ed in the New York Times and in reply to the late Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, Israel’s then UN ambassador Danny Danon wrote: “What’s wrong with Palestinian surrender? …A national suicide of the Palestinians’ current political and cultural ethos is precisely what is needed for peace.”
But if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thought then he could bury the Palestinian state by dealing with the Emirati or Bahraini one, by getting Sudan taken off the terrorist list, or having Washington recognise Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, he must now be realising how little that meant, how little in reality his newly acquired Arab assets are worth.
Enough is enough
These Arab leaders have no credibility with their own people, even less with the Palestinians. To ever have thought otherwise was Netanyahu’s grand illusion. A new generation of Palestinians is rising under his nose, which no amount of skunk water, tear gas, and sound grenades will stop. There is a Mona al-Kurd on every street corner.
Arab leaders have no credibility with their own people, even less with Palestinians. To ever have thought otherwise was Netanyahu’s grand illusion
How did they get there? Who raised them? Who incited them?
The soldiers who arrest them nightly; the courts which have decided settlers are the true owners of their homes, or who issue the demolition orders; the city municipality which carries them out; The City of David Foundation, El Ad, which advances territorial claims through archaeology and housing for settlers in Silwan; the mobs of far-right Jewish youths who shout: “Death to the Arabs”; or the city’s deputy mayor Arieh King, who told a Palestinian activist that it was a pity he wasn’t shot in the head.
This education in hatred is the result of a truly multi-disciplinary effort by Israel’s different institutions and at all levels. It has gone on all their lives. Now this generation is saying: “Enough is enough.” To them, it matters not how many times Israeli police throw sound grenades at medics treating the injured, at worshippers inside Al-Aqsa mosque or at women and children in the streets of the Old City.
They will return night after night to Al-Aqsa. Without a stone being thrown, their presence proves that East Jerusalem is under occupation and will always be so until liberated from Israeli control. But stones will be thrown and much else besides. There were large demonstrations in the West Bank and a volley of rockets fired from Gaza. On Tuesday, 25 Palestinians, including nine children, were killed in Israeli air strikes on the enclave. Two Israeli women have also died.
If the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas talks and behaves like a rabbit caught in the headlights, faced with a people he has lost all authority over, the same is not true of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
There are three features that give this protest added potency, and that should cause alarm to the Israeli security establishment. The first is that as a direct result of the latest wave of normalisations with Israel, no Palestinian is under any illusion that an Arab state will come to even their rhetorical rescue.
This was not the case in previous intifadas. There are no honest brokers any more. The Palestinians know they are well and truly on their own, and each can only rely on the resources available to them.
The second is that unlike previous uprisings, every Palestinian is involved. From 1948, Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and the diaspora. The protests in al-Aqsa attract Christians as well as Muslims, secular as well as religious, nationalist as well as Islamist. They come from Haifa and Jaffa as well as Jerusalem.
If the buses carrying them are stopped on the motorway, Jerusalemites come and pick them up in their cars. They have different status under Israeli law. Some have Israeli passports and are citizens, others have Jerusalem resident permits. Israel has undone all of the work it put into the strategy of divide and rule. It has united them all.
All feel the same fire and express the same passion. All call themselves Palestinian. Each and everyone of them knows what the stakes are.
The third and crucial difference is that this movement is centred on Al-Aqsa and Jerusalem. No matter how many times the police clear the mosque, and they have now done it three times, it will refill with Palestinians more determined to protect it by stepping into the shoes of those who have been injured or arrested.
A new uprising
Picking Jerusalem as the place to declare an end of conflict last year was the most fundamental error Netanyahu and the settlers could have made. Of course they can use, and have used, maximum force, but they will learn to question the utility of doing so.
By making East Jerusalem the focus of the next round of settlement, and openly and brazenly justifying it, Israel ignited a flame that can only grow throughout the Muslim world
By making East Jerusalem the focus of the next round of settlement, and openly and brazenly justifying it, they have ignited a flame that can only grow throughout the Muslim world. And it’s a flame they can not control. No one expressed this more fiercely or eloquently on Monday than Um Samir Abdellatif, an elderly resident of one of the 28 homes threatened with eviction in Sheikh Jarrah.
In an interview with Al Jazeera on Monday, Um Samir said she knew the Arab world could not do anything for them. “But we do not lean on anyone, because we will, with our own hands, resist the occupation. God willing, we will keep resisting until the very last moment of our lives.
“My heart is on fire from the amount of hypocrisy and claims that these lands are theirs. And they know, with every fibre of their beings, that what they are saying is lies. This is Zionism, it has nothing to do with Judaism. People say that we fight against Judaism, but we don’t, we always have good relations with Christians and Jews, we have always been good with each other. But we reject occupation, reject it, reject it totally.”
Thus are sown the seeds of a new uprising.