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A Zebra at the Mercy of a Jury of Hyenas: "Rifqa" Reviewed

posted on: Feb 1, 2023

The cover of Rifqa and Mohammed el-Kurd / Photo by RYAN BRAND

By: Alison Norquist / Arab America Contributing Writer

With a touching and poignant introduction by Aja Monet, Mohammed el-Kurd’s debut collection of poetry rings with the truth of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Monet tells of how she first met el-Kurd and his grandmother, after whom the group is named, during her time volunteering in Palestine. She was forever changed by what she saw, not only the horrors of war but also the kindness from those like the el-Kurds.


The titular poem, about the things his grandmother had seen in her lifetime, is startling. The juxtaposition of her fragility in her later years and her physical and mental strength during the Nakba are expressed in jolting stanzas.

They tell the story of the particular events:

organized, plural,


-“Rifqa”, Mohammed el-Kurd

His grandmother’s story covers the 70 years since the first attack. There have been births, deaths, laughter, and tears. You can sense the full breadth of her warmth and his love for her. Despite her aging, she is still the same strong woman that survived.

“Three Women”

Continuing his discussion of women affected by colonization in Palestine and the world in general, “Three Women” follows the births of three very different women. The first, a woman in Atlanta, faces the disparity of the American medical complex as a woman of color. The next is a Palestinian woman at the checkpoint in Jerusalem. As she gives birth, she is told she cannot cross, that she and her child are a “security threat.” Lastly, a woman in Gaza gives birth next to her husband’s corpse, her child stillborn.

The authentic depictions of not just the pain of birth but also the extreme yet natural conditions in which life is brought into the world may shake readers to their core. Haunting as it may be, the prose is beautiful and full of subtle imagery that gives just enough for the reader to imagine the worst without being too telling.

The Atlanta Years

His poems mention several women of color who are singers, writers, and rappers. From Nicki Minaj to Nina Simone, Toni Morrison to Audre Lorde, el-Kurd’s time in Atlanta showed him the various idiosyncracies of American society and a new group of people he could connect to. Ultimately, the references made to other poets, both American and Arab, are a who’s who of the poetic circle that he is now a part of.

About the Poet

Mohammed el-Kurd /

Born May 15, 1998, Palestinian poet Mohammed el-Kurd’s birth marked the 50th anniversary of the invasion of Zionist colonists in Palestine. His family survived, thanks partly to his grandmother, Rifqa el-Kurd, who fled from Haifa during the fighting. Now, el-Kurd travels and speaks on behalf of his fellow Palestinians in an attempt to end the occupation. Often, his speeches are opportunities for Israeli sympathizers to protest against the freeing of Palestine. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME Magazine in 2021.

Mohammed el-Kurd reading his poetry and discussing his inspiration / Middle Eastern Eye YouTube

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