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Palestinian Twins Muna and Mohammed El-Kurd: Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People of 2021

posted on: Sep 22, 2021

Leyelle Mosallam / Arab America Contributing Writer

Palestinian twins Mohammed and Muna El-Kurd are featured in TIME Magazine’s list of 100 most influential people of 2021. This past May, the El-Kurd family, and several others were being forcibly displaced from their home’s in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The El-Kurd twins are known for their political activism and social media posts that documented the Palestinian uprising against Israeli forced evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and throughout the West Bank. TIME Magazine is recognizing the El-Kurd twin’s social media presence that inspired thousands of Palestinians around the world to renew protests and challenge the Israeli regime that has been trying to erase Palestinian existence for decades. 

Time Magazine:

“Through online posts and media appearances, sibling activists Mohammed and Muna El-Kurd provided the world with a window into living under occupation in East Jerusalem this spring—helping to prompt an international shift in rhetoric in regard to Israel and Palestine.”

Sanya Mansoor

Background

Mohammed and Muna El-Kurd are twenty-three years old and were born and raised in Sheikh Jarrah. In October 2020, the Israeli magistrate court of East Jerusalem ruled to evict 12 Palestinian families, including the El-Kurd family, from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah to make way for Israeli settlers in the neighborhood. The Palestinian families were given 30 days to file an appeal against the evictions, and the appeal would decide whether or not the Palestinian families of Sheikh Jarrah would be left homeless. However, the likely hood of the Israeli courts hearing the Palestinians appeal was very low, considering the Israeli judicial system is created to favor Jewish settlers. 

In March 2021, tensions between Israel and Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah escalated when Israeli authorities rejected their appeal against the eviction orders and ruled to dispossess the El-Kurd family and 5 others from Sheikh Jarrah by May 2nd, 2021, and an additional 7 families by August 2021. Mohammed and Muna El-Kurd launched a campaign on Instagram using the hashtag “SaveSheikhJarrah” to bring international awareness to the displacements. Their Instagram campaign sparked demonstrations across the West Bank demanding an end to forced displacement and ethnic cleansing in occupied East Jerusalem. 

Under international law, East Jerusalem legally belongs to the Palestinians. Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, violates article 49 of the fourth Geneva convention which claims that the occupying power, Israel, cannot allow its own civilian population into the territories it occupies, nor do the occupying powers have any legal authority or jurisdiction over the occupied territories. However, Israeli settler companies such as Nahlat Shalom, have relentlessly attempted to establish Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem by making false accusations that East Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Sheikh Jarrah, were once settled by Jews before 1948. These claims were made possible, however, under Israel’s 1970 Administrative Matters Law, which was enacted for Jews to “reclaim” property they have previously owned in East Jerusalem and the West Bank despite these territories belonging to Palestinians. 

This is not the first time the El-Kurd family has experienced displacement. In 956, Jordan and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency established a resettlement plan in Sheikh Jarrah for 28 Palestinian refugee families who were displaced during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Among these refugee families, was the El-Kurd family. Under the agreement, the 28 Palestinian families would be given legal property status after living in Sheikh Jarrah for 3 years, however, this never happened. After the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, and the Palestinian refugees of Sheikh Jarrah never received their promise.

Why are the Evictions Important to the El-Kurd Family?

In 2009, the al-Hanoun and al-Ghawi families were evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, and half of the El-Kurd family’s home was taken by Israeli settlers. Muna and Mohammed El-Kurd were only eleven years old when the evictions took place in their neighborhood, and now Israeli settler organizations who raided Sheikh Jarrah in 2009 are back to finish what they have started. 

The El-Kurd twins are fighting to keep their homes and to prevent the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, and the entirety of East Jerusalem from being cleansed of Palestinians. If the evictions take place, the El-Kurd family and many others in Sheikh Jarrah will be homeless. 

The El-Kurd Twins Impact

When the demonstrations in the West Bank took place, they got violent quickly. The protests were peaceful, however, the Israeli settlers living in the neighborhood felt threatened by the Palestinians protesting. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) were called to Sheikh Jarrah, and they began attacking the Palestinians who were peacefully protesting. The IDF sprayed the Palestinian protestors with skunk water, arrested them, broke into their homes, and brutally beat them. 

Mohammed and Muna El-Kurd documented the IDF on Instagram in order to bring their brutality to international attention and put pressure on international leaders to end ethnic cleansing in Sheikh Jarrah. Their Instagram posts and campaign sparked protests not just in the West Bank, but all across the world. Because of the El-Kurd twins, people finally got to see what life was really like for Palestinians living in the West Bank, and such brutality caught the attention of human rights activists who claimed the IDF actions as illegal under international law.

The El-Kurd twins were arrested by the IDF, claiming that the El-Kurd twins were participating in “riots” in Sheikh Jarrah. However, arresting the EL-Kurd twins was a broader effort by Israel to stop the twin from calling out Israel for displacing Palestinians and labeling Israelis as colonizers.

TIME magazine featuring the El-Kurd twins on their 2021 list of 100 most influential people is a sign that the world’s outlook on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has shifted. More people are recognizing that Palestinians rights matter and such ethnic cleansing and brutality must come to an end.

TIME Magazine:

“For more than a decade, the El-Kurd family, along with dozens of their neighbors in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, has been fighting against the possibility of forced removal from their homes by Israeli settlers. In May, tensions in Sheikh Jarrah spilled into the nearby Old City, where Israeli forces attacked worshippers at the al-Aqsa mosque; Hamas militants in Gaza responded with rocket fire into Israel. Mohammed and Muna El-Kurd—who were temporarily detained by Israeli authorities this summer—challenged existing narratives about Palestinian resistance through viral posts and interviews, humanizing the experiences of their neighbors and pushing back against suggestions that violence was being predominantly carried out by Palestinians. Charismatic and bold, they became the most recognizable voices of those threatened with losing their homes in Sheikh Jarrah. Around the world, their grassroots organizing helped inspire the Palestinian diaspora to renew protests. And in the U.S., long Israel’s strongest ally, polls show growing support for Palestinians, so far without any cost to public support for Israel.”

Sanya Mansoor

However, to Mohammed and Muna El-Kurd being featured on TIME’s list was “positive”, but not enough to support the Palestinian cause. The twins want to see a more tangible action towards Palestine and want bias Zionism in the media to end. The twins are looking forward to more liberation movements and Palestinian resistance in all forms.

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