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“Ethnic Cleansing”: Amid Protests of Palestinian Evictions in Jerusalem, Israel Raids Al-Aqsa Mosque

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Hundreds of Palestinians have been wounded after Israeli forces raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque for the second time in four days, with reports showing police fired rubber-coated bullets, stun grenades and tear gas at Palestinian worshipers. Palestinians have been staging weeks of protests to block Israel from evicting dozens of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem to give their homes to Jewish settlers, which the United Nations has described as a possible war crime. Mohammed El-Kurd, a writer and poet who is organizing to save his family’s home in Sheikh Jarrah, says the world is seeing colonialism in action in Palestine. “What’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah today is nothing short of ethnic cleansing,” El-Kurd says in an interview from Jerusalem. “We are seeing the Israeli government literally doing everything it can to terrorize Palestinians, whereas Israeli settlers can just walk around our neighborhoods, steal our homes and wield their guns, no questions asked whatsoever.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Hundreds of Palestinians have been wounded after Israeli forces raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque this morning for the second time in four days. Al Jazeera reports Israelis fired rubber-coated bullets, tear gas and sound bombs at Palestinian worshipers. Video posted online shows explosives, possibly stun grenades, being fired inside the mosque, which is the third-holiest site in Islam.

A warning to our audience: This segment contains disturbing video.

Al Jazeera reports medical personnel were initially barred from reaching the injured Palestinians. Eyewitnesses described a scene of terror when Israeli forces began opening fire while people prayed.

EYEWITNESS: We were praying in the mosque. Suddenly, the soldiers vacated the mosque without any alert. They started to shoot their bombs. And there are many, dozens of injured, dozens of people who were injured from the bombs here and bullets. It’s amazing. This is a praying place, not for a fight.

AMY GOODMAN: Al Jazeera reports 305 Palestinians were wounded, 228 have been hospitalized, with seven in critical condition. Israeli forces also attacked the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday, on a night when at least 205 Palestinians were injured.

Today’s raid came hours before Israeli nationalists were scheduled to begin an annual march through occupied East Jerusalem to mark Israel’s 1967 capture of the area along with the West Bank and Gaza. Tension has been escalating in Jerusalem for weeks. On April 22nd, a group of right-wing Israelis marched through the Old City chanting “Death to Arabs” and “May your village burn.” Video from the night shows Israeli mobs attacking and harassing Palestinian families and throwing rocks at Palestinian buses and homes.

Meanwhile, Palestinians have been staging weeks of protests to block Israel from evicting dozens of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem to give their homes to Jewish settlers. A court hearing on the evictions scheduled for today was postponed Sunday. The United Nations has described the planned eviction as a possible war crime. U.N. rights office spokesman Rupert Colville said last week, quote, “The occupying power cannot confiscate private property in occupied territory.”

This comes as the Biden administration is coming under increasing pressure to directly condemn Israel’s actions. Last week, the governments of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain issued a joint call for Israel to stop all settlement expansion in the Occupied Territories.

We go now to Jerusalem, where we’re joined by Mohammed El-Kurd, a Palestinian writer and poet who’s organizing to save his family’s home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem.

First, give us the overall picture, Mohammed, of what has been happening. Describe what’s been happening at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and all around the area, and then we’ll talk about al-Jarrah — Sheikh Jarrah.

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Thank you, Amy. Yeah, thank you, Amy, and it’s a pleasure to be here with you.

To sum up what’s been happening in Al-Aqsa Mosque, it’s complete state-settler collusion. It’s clearly that the Israeli occupation forces are working in service of the Israeli settlers to terrorize and assault Palestinian worshipers. In their mosque today, Palestinians have been met with rubber-coated bullets in the face and in the upper body, tear gas inside the mosque at the women and the children praying in there, in addition to many other forms of brute force.

The same thing is in Sheikh Jarrah, and this image becomes even more stark when compared by how the Israeli occupation forces are treating the settlers. Today, an Israeli settler ran over a Palestinian youth. And instead of being captured, the Israeli police raised his gun at Palestinians who were protesting this act of terrorism. So we’re seeing clear state-settler violence and clear state-settler collusion in Jerusalem, in occupied Jerusalem.

AMY GOODMAN: And we’re just about to see this next march. Can you explain what, quote, “Jerusalem Day” is and the significance of this mass march?

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Definitely. It’s an infamous march that I’ve witnessed all every single year of my life whereby Israeli settlers come from all over occupied historic Palestine and chant genocidal, racist chants against Palestinians. They destroy Palestinian property. One time a few years ago, I came home from school, and I found the settlers sitting on my couch. This is the extent by which they behave, because they know they have impunity, because they know they are going to suffer zero consequences from their state, which is a fascistic state to begin with.

AMY GOODMAN: How old are you, Mohammed?

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: I’m 22 years old.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to go to a video that’s gone viral on social media. It shows your twin 22-year-old sister, Muna El-Kurd, confronting an Israeli settler who’s been living in a part of your house in Sheikh Jarrah for 12 years.

MUNA EL-KURD: Jacob, you know this is not your house.

JACOB FAUCI: Yes, but if I go, you don’t go back. So what’s the problem? Why are you yelling at me? I didn’t do this. I didn’t do this.

MUNA EL-KURD: But you —

JACOB FAUCI: It’s easy to yell at me, but I didn’t do this.

MUNA EL-KURD: You are stealing my house.

JACOB FAUCI: And if I don’t steal it, someone else is going to steal it.

MUNA EL-KURD: No, no one is allowed to steal it.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain this scene? And talk more specifically about what’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah right now.

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Absolutely. The scene that you saw, Amy, is a scene of colonialism. People often think that colonialism is this archaic concept or a concept of recent memory, but in fact it’s alive and well in Palestine. And this is a colonizer that happens to be from Brooklyn, as you can hear by the accent, who decided to find a home in my backyard.

This happens because we, as a community of refugees in Sheikh Jarrah, have been battling billionaire-backed, often U.S.-registered settler organizations that employ these people to come and live in our homes and harass us and intimidate us. These people are not employed. These people are not families. They just come to terrorize us. Yesterday, our next-door neighbor Hjaj’s family, his roof was invaded by settlers wielding stones, bags and bags of stones. What’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah today is nothing short of ethnic cleansing. To help the people understand Sheikh —

AMY GOODMAN: But just to understand, I mean, this man who is in your yard, this guy you said who’s from Brooklyn, explain how your family — your house got half-occupied in 2009? You’re living with them?

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Yeah. I mean, yes, in 2009, we were coming home from school, and we found that the entire neighborhood was on lockdown. It was besieged from all areas, and there were more occupation forces and settlers than there were residents of the neighborhood. And they used tear gas and sound bombs and stun grenades to take over our home. And these settlers, these thieves, have squatted in our home since then. And obviously you cannot resist this, or otherwise you will be shot and killed. We know how the Israeli occupation forces behave around Palestinians. We know how they target Palestinians.

But I wanted to add that this is just a microcosm. You know, I know it sounds bizarre that an Israeli settler is taking over half of my home, and likely they will be taking over the entirety of the neighborhood should no international action be taken. But it’s not as absurd when you put it in the context how the state of Israel came about. It came about by destroying and burning hundreds and hundreds of Palestinian cities and villages and taking over Palestinians’ homes. Today, all over historic Palestine, there are settlers who are living in homes that were once Palestinian.

AMY GOODMAN: In response to the violent crackdown of Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem, Congressmember Rashida Tlaib, whose parents are Palestinian immigrants, tweeted this weekend, “Too many are silent or dismissive as our U.S. tax dollars continue to be used for this kind of inhumanity. I am tired of people functioning from a place of fear rather than doing what’s right because of the bullying by pro-Israel lobbyists. This is apartheid, plain and simple.”

Meanwhile, New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Saturday, “We stand in solidarity with the Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. Israeli forces are forcing families from their homes during Ramadan and inflicting violence. It is inhumane and the US must show leadership in safeguarding the human rights of Palestinians.” She also condemned U.S. aid to Israeli forces and other repressive governments around the world, tweeting, “From the paramilitary violence in Colombia and Sheikh Jarrah, to the detention of children on our own border and the militarization of US police departments, the [United States] must seriously assess its role in state violence and condition aid.”

So, talk about this place that is your home, your family’s home. This is a flashpoint for so much of what’s happening — as you said, a microcosm. Explain what the judge’s ruling has been. Court was supposed to go into session today, but they’ve canceled the hearing because of the level of violence right now.

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean, we think that this is a stalling on the Israeli judicial system’s part. I want to make clear to all people watching that although we go to these courts, we do not believe in their jurisdiction over us. We are simply buying time in our homes. At the end of the day, these are colonial courts. These are courts that were built by and for Israeli settlers to uphold Jewish supremacy. And the Israeli authorities are unabashed and explicit in maintaining this Jewish dominance in Jerusalem over the indigenous Palestinians. We are waiting, but we are not expecting much of a settler judge and a settler jury, to be completely honest with you.

I am glad, on congressional level, people are speaking out against this and, on a grassroots level internationally, people are speaking out against this. Every single year, Israel receives $3.8 billion in military aid. Biden has been consistent in refusing the idea of conditioning military aid to Israel. I don’t want him to condition it; I want him to end it altogether. And I want him to end any kind of military aid to any country that has a police brutality problem, like Colombia. But obviously, this necessitates the United States acknowledging that it has an imperialism problem to begin with. So we do call on the Biden administration to take action against the evictions, that are a war crime, but I also will not forget that my home — half of my home and my neighbors’ home, Ghawi and Hannoun families, were taken under the Obama administration with Biden as the vice president.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about what the Biden administration has said. You have the national security adviser Jake Sullivan saying the United States has “serious concerns” about the violent clashes between Palestinians and Jerusalem. He told Israeli national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat U.S. officials will “press for steps to ensure calm, deescalate tensions and denounce violence,” adding that the launching of rocket attacks from Gaza towards Israel is “unacceptable and must be condemned.” That, again, the Israeli national security adviser. If you can respond to this? So, he has expressed, quote, “serious concerns.” Last week, the governments of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain issued a joint call for Israel to stop all settlement expansion in the Occupied Territories.

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: We welcome all of the international condemnations that we are seeing from countries, be it the United States or otherwise, but we want more than just condemnations. We want Israel to be held accountable for its crimes against Palestinians. The Biden administration and the language of a false equivalency continue to uphold this occupation. I think you can deescalate the situation and the tension and the violence in Jerusalem by ending the occupation. That is the only solution. It is insane for Palestinians to continue living under this occupation for 73 years.

What’s the situation in Jerusalem isn’t that there’s a Palestinian Authority and other Palestinian parties involved. There’s Palestinian people, grassroots individuals without any kind of leadership, who are finally saying no and continually saying no to ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem and otherwise. And there’s an occupier, an occupying entity that is using brute force and fascism and apartheid to suppress any kind of peaceful protest or any kind of protest altogether.

In the past two weeks, our neighbors’ homes and our own homes have been sprayed with skunk water that I can smell them from a few blocks. We’ve had so much stun grenades and tear gas. My own brother — not that he’s different from other people, but my own brother has been arrested. Many, many people have been arrested. A person lost his eyes in Al-Aqsa Mosque. We are seeing the Israeli government terrorizing Palestinians. We are seeing the Israeli government literally doing everything it can to terrorize Palestinians, whereas Israeli sellers can just walk around our neighborhoods, steal our homes and wield their guns, no questions asked whatsoever. They can invade our homes and be told, “All is good,” by a police officer. And they can just go back, no consequences. There’s clear asymmetry here. I think apartheid is an understatement, but it’s a good starting point. This settler colonialism in Palestine must stop, because it’s killing all of us.

AMY GOODMAN: Human Rights Watch using that term, “apartheid,” to describe what’s happening in the Occupied Territories for the first time last month. I want to turn to a Palestinian man named Mahmoud al-Marbua, who witnessed the Israeli assault on the Al-Aqsa Mosque Saturday.

MAHMOUD AL-MARBUA: [translated] They don’t want us to pray. There’s a fight every day. Every day, there are clashes. Every day, there are troubles. They’ve been stopping us from entering inside the Old City for a whole week. Why? They did not allow us in yesterday. Why? Why are they doing this to us? They’re making us crazy. They’re making us explode. Look at how they’re firing at us. How can we live? Is this a normal life? What is this? Look at the problems. Look at how they’re standing around. They are throwing bombs at us, and they can’t see anyone.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Mohammed, as we begin to wrap up now, you live between here and Sheikh Jarrah, where you went back to with all that is happening there and to protect your family home. Can you talk about what you see happening? I mean, is it conceivable, by the end of the week, the Israeli prime minister, who himself has been indicted for corruption, Benjamin Netanyahu, might not even be the prime minister anymore? And does that even make a difference with who is the leadership in the Israeli government?

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: I think as long the leadership is spearheaded by settlers, then settlements will prevail in our countries. I do not want to be living under Israeli rule, to begin with, and I don’t rely on the Israeli authorities, on the Israeli occupation forces to protect me, although they are mandated to do so under international law. I think it’s pointless for us to expect a person who is beating us up, assaulting us, terrorizing us to be told to stop and then have them stop. There must be international intervention. There must be sanctions against the Israeli government. That is the only way. The occupation must end.

And it’s also important to note that what’s been happening in Sheikh Jarrah is not new, and it’s not unique, and it hasn’t started or ended with an Israeli prime minister. It’s happening in Silwan, where a hundred homes are being demolished and 1,000 people will be homeless. It’s happening in the South Hebron Hills, where people’s villages are being declared as military zones and green zones. It’s happening all across historic Palestine. It’s the Israeli colonialism that started in 1948, and it continues to do so. The only difference is it replaced weapons and artillery with a judicial system that is inherently colonial. So I call on the international community, but also I call on people, free people in the world, to take action against this, to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine altogether. It’s not just about Sheikh Jarrah. It’s about the entirety of Palestine, that is being devoured by the beast of Israeli colonialism.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohammed El-Kurd, I want to thank you so much for being with us, writer and poet from Jerusalem in occupied Palestine, organizing to save his family’s home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem. His debut book Rifqa will be released by Haymarket Books later this year.

Next up, we go to Afghanistan, where at least 85 people, mainly schoolgirls, have died in an attack outside their school. We’ll go to Kabul for the latest.

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