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Palestinian Poet Mohammed El-Kurd on Israeli Apartheid, Growing Tension in Region & Raid on Al-Aqsa Mosque

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Israel has bombed southern Lebanon and Gaza as tension soars in the region days after Israeli police repeatedly attacked Palestinian worshipers inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem. In response to the raids on the mosque, militants in southern Lebanon and Gaza fired dozens of rockets into Israel. It was the largest rocket attack from Lebanon in 17 years. Meanwhile, a Palestinian gunman opened fire on a vehicle near an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank on Friday, killing two Israeli settlers. This all comes as Israel continues to impose a violent crackdown in the occupied West Bank, where the Israeli army has killed at least 94 Palestinians so far this year. Israel’s raids on the Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan have sparked international condemnation. For more, we speak with Mohammed El-Kurd, the Palestine correspondent for The Nation, who is from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem and says the escalating violence in Palestine cannot be separated from “the larger settler-colonial enterprise” of the decades-old Israeli occupation.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Israel bombed southern Lebanon and Gaza overnight as tensions soar in the region, days after Israeli police repeatedly attacked Palestinian worshipers inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem. In response to the Israel raids on the mosque, militants in southern Lebanon and Gaza fired dozens of rockets into Israel, the largest rocket attack from Lebanon in 17 years. Israel says most of the rockets were intercepted.

Meanwhile, earlier today, two Israeli sisters were shot dead, their mother critically wounded, in a shooting near an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank. Israeli authorities are searching for the perpetrators.

This all comes as Israel continues to impose a violent crackdown in the occupied West Bank, where the Israeli army has killed at least 94 Palestinians this year. Israel’s raids on the Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan have sparked international condemnation. Palestinian worshipers said they were beaten and tear-gassed as they prayed.

FAHMI ABBAS: [translated] We were spending the night in the mosque, and after we were done with late-night prayers, the police started to evacuate worshipers from the outdoor yards. We were inside, and the young men closed the doors, but police stormed in and detained the young men and women. There were other worshipers to the eastern part of the compound. … In the yard to the eastern part of the compound, the police were firing tear gas and stun grenades. It was a scene that I can’t describe. Then they stormed in and started beating everyone, and they detained people, and they put the young men on their faces to the ground. They also beat them while in detention.

AMY GOODMAN: Joining us now is Mohammed El-Kurd. He is the Palestine representative for The Nation, where he recently wrote an article titled “Israeli Protesters Say They’re Defending Freedom. Palestinians Know Better.” Mohammed El-Kurd is from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem.

Mohammed, welcome back to Democracy Now! What is happening right now in Israel and Palestine?

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Good morning.

What is happening has been a crackdown on Palestinians from the Israeli regime on all levels. But it’s important to remember, it’s important to contextualize, that these tensions that may arise in this kind of violence that may, quote-unquote, “erupt” does not happen in a vacuum, and it’s not — does not happen in isolation of the larger settler-colonial enterprise, of the larger military occupation that Palestinians are forced to live under. As you said, there have been 94 Palestinians killed since the start of this year. And that, within itself, is an escalation of violence.

But in the past two days, Israelis, who have been emboldened by international impunity, by international inaction, have been using the bodies and using the site of Al-Aqsa Mosque as a stage to display brute force, to send a message of sovereignty and security to the Israeli public, as well as send a message of intimidation to the Palestinians who use that mosque as one of their only remaining public spaces in a shrinking city.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what you understand happened in Al-Aqsa?

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Yes. Well, according to eyewitness reports and according to the video footage that has been circulated all over the internet, as well as TV channels, Israeli occupation forces stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque. They used rubber bullets. They used tear gas, stun grenades. They used butts of their rifles to beat on the worshipers and arrest a mass number of them. Over 400 worshipers were detained, and then they were handed orders preventing them, denying them entry to Al-Aqsa Mosque or the Old City for 15 days.

Later that day, an armed Israeli seller — which, by the way, many of the settlers who live in East Jerusalem are armed — shot a 15-year-old boy in the Old City of Jerusalem. And, of course, to no one’s surprise, the settler was not arrested.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain what’s happening from Gaza and Lebanon. You’ve got this barrage of rockets, in response to Al-Aqsa, going into Israel, and then you have Israel rocketing Lebanon, though they were careful to say — they weren’t calling out Hezbollah, but saying Palestinian militants, and it looks like Lebanon is not trying to escalate this.

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Absolutely. It seems like the internal chasm that is splitting apart Israeli society today might prevent them from entering a fully scaled war, which is why I assume they have been very cautious in their wording. But we must understand that the Palestinian people, regardless of the geography, regardless of the legal status, be it in a refugee camp in Lebanon or besieged in the Gaza Strip, are one people, and they feel each other’s pain. But it’s not just retaliation for Al-Aqsa Mosque. I mean, the Israeli regime has been bombing Syria for well over a year. It has been bombing the Gaza Strip, on and off, for the past 15 years.

And the most important piece of context here is that we must remember that the Gaza Strip is an open-air prison, the largest in the world. This is a densely populated refugee camp where people do not have an inch to stretch. People do not have the right to movement. People do not have access to clean water. It has been declared uninhabitable. That, within itself, is an aggression.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned the Israeli settlers in Jerusalem and Israelis carrying guns. I wanted to ask you about Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s new minister of national security, ultranationalist, convicted of racist incitement against Palestinians and supporting a terrorist group. In October, he waved a gun and shouted. This was during a confrontation in your neighborhood, Mohammed, in Sheikh Jarrah, in Jerusalem, where settlers attempted to violently evict your family and others from their homes. Just going to play a brief clip.

ITAMAR BEN-GVIR: [translated] If they, Palestinians, throw stones, shoot them.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what he was saying and what he did.

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Absolutely. I’ve had a few interactions with Ben-Gvir and also Smotrich. And, you know, while adjectives like “far-right” and “ultranationalist” certainly do describe him, these adjectives make him sound as though he is fringe, as though he is marginal, when in fact he represents, I would argue, a large portion of the mainstream.

You must understand that these politicians use our neighborhoods, use our front yards, as avenues for political campaigning. These displays of racism, these displays of brutality, these threats, all of them serve to embolden and bolster his election campaign, which was insanely successful. He is now the minister of national security. This has been a pattern with Itamar Ben-Gvir, but it is just — he is just a man saying the quiet part out loud.

Truly, the differences between him and the liberal Zionist parties are purely cosmetic. He is willing to say in public what they say behind closed doors. And what their policies and what the laws that they have put forth have done for the Palestinians for the past seven decades, they have all been policies and laws and actions of racism, ones that promote ethnic cleansing, ones that reek of racism.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you, Mohammed El-Kurd, about the massive Israeli protests, not about treatment of Palestinians, but about what Netanyahu wants to do to the Supreme Court, severely curtail the powers of the judiciary. Can you talk about whether you think they will transform into supporting Palestinians, and also the mainstream media’s coverage of what’s happening right now with the escalating violence?

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: I mean, I want to — so, you know, watching the protests, I want to tell the Israeli public that they have a lot more in common than they realize, because the body that they are protesting to defend, the body that they are trying desperately to save, the Supreme Court, which they say is a beacon of democracy, has its fingerprints all over the Israeli government’s settler-colonial enterprise and apartheid regime.

I mean, this is the same Supreme Court that in 2018, when the Israeli occupation forces created a generation of martyrs and amputees in the Gaza Strip following the Great March of Return, ruled that they were doing so in self-defense. This is the same Supreme Court that upheld the legality of the family reunification law, which prevents tens of thousands of Palestinian couples and families of living together and uniting together. This is the same Supreme Court that in January ruled, in complete violation of international law, to forcibly expel over 1,300 Palestinians from Masafer Yatta. And one of the Supreme Court judges which made this ruling possible, by the way, is himself a settler in the West Bank.

So, this is the body that these people are trying to defend. So I absolutely do not think they can transform into talking about or protecting the rights or defending the lives or being advocates of the Palestinian liberation movement, because they are defending a body that is settler-made and that serves settlers and that was built on top of the rubble of Palestinian lands and that was made to ethnically cleanse Palestinians and to legalize that kind of ethnic cleansing.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that there is growing resentment about what the government is doing to Palestinians when it comes to these massive protests?

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: I wonder. I mean, they have been able to show us that they can mobilize in the hundreds of thousands, and they can speak up, and they can do all of this civil disobedience. They can engage in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against their own government. They have been showing us this. And we are just told that they are just not choosing to do it in favor of the Palestinians, which makes sense. I mean, defending the lives of Palestinians or protesting against the apartheid regime or the settler-colonial regime would mean that they have to undermine their own privileges and their own luxuries they enjoy as settlers in historic Palestine.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Mohammed El-Kurd, we want to thank you for being with us, Palestine correspondent for The Nation.

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll link your latest piece at democracynow.org.

Coming up, calls are growing for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to be impeached, after ProPublica reveals Thomas has frequently taken free luxury trips paid for by a Republican billionaire, Harlan Crow. Stay with us.

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