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Postcards from Palestine

“Don’t Waste Your Breath, They Won’t Do Anything Anyway” - A call to fight hopelessness in Sheikh Jarrah

Tuesday, August 13 - Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem

Maysa Kurdi, 54, and her mother, 94 (right and center)

These were the translated words of a 94 year old woman living in East Jerusalem whose family is  being kicked out of their home in Shiekh Jarrah (East Jerusalem) by Israeli settlers and the Israeli government. In 2001 settlers evicted the al-Kurds from the front portion of their home—claiming it belonged to Jews—occupying the house and forcing them to live in the back. In 1948, fearing violence against themselves, the family fled from their home in Haifa (which is now part of Israel) as refugees to East Jerusalem. East Jerusalem was then under the control of Jordan. They’d been living in the house since 1956, which was given to them under the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Over the years, settlers have used dogs to intimidate and harm members of the family—including Maysa al-Kurd, the 54-year-old daughter of the family.  Settlers also forced the family to hang up towels and laundry in front of their windows so the women in the family do not have to see the settlers expose themselves and do other lewd things.

In 2008, an Israeli court ruled that the house belonged to Sephardic Jews under the Ottoman ruling of Palestine and ordered the family out. Muhammad al-Kurd, the owner of the house, died of a massive coronary attack two weeks after the ruling.  This family’s case was the first time in Israeli history where the judge came to her house and took the keys away from them. The family is still fighting the eviction to this day, with evidence that the Ottoman-era document showed that Sephardic Jews rented, but did not own the house. The al-Kurds have spoken countless times to delegations from around the world.

And their eviction is not the only one in Sheikh Jarrah—by 2009, 28 families in the neighborhood had been evicted, leaving over 60 people homeless. In December 2012, the Israeli court evicted another family, leaving an addtional 10 people homeless, including six children.

I already knew most of this story coming in because I had heard it so many times from others who had been to Palestine - from Dr. Clayborne Carson, my academic advisor and director of the Martin Luther King Research Institute to Drs. Angela Davis and Gina Dent, whom I heard speak about their time in Palestine last summer.

Sitting listening to this family pour out their suffering to us didn’t sit right to me, and when we got on the bus to return to our hotel I understood why.

A Palestinian member of our delegation got on the microphone and translated something he heard the 94 year old mutter over and over again in Arabic to her daughter during the presentation: “Don’t waste your breath, they’re not going to do anything anyway.”

It didn’t feel like there was anything we could do for this woman and her family beyond relay the story back home. Syndey Levy, a national member of Jewish Voice for Peace and one of our delegation leaders told us later that night that she was right.

We are not going to get this woman’s house back, Sydney told us.

“She has every right to feel hopeless because of what she’s seen and what she’s experienced. Your job is to take that feeling and move yourself into action. Your job is not to feel hopeless,” he said. “Our job is to convey messages of hopelessness here, not so people home feel hopeless, but so they can be moved to do something.”

I wish I could tell this woman that we are doing something - many of us are working on various campaigns to end the occupation from campuses and community organizations around the United States. And speaking for myself and my student group at Stanford, we will not stop until justice is realized for people across Palestine and Israel.

I had asked during the question and answer session, what can we do to be the most helpful to the family. The answer of Maysa al-Kurd, the 54 year old daughter of the family, was a new one to me: get your legislators and your president to end these injustices.

As someone skeptical of the electoral process, this suggestion was new to me. We try many things in our campus work, but reaching out to legislators is not one of them - and is likely something that most of our group would disdain. But to hear this call from someone who is directly and seriously affected by the occupation, I commit to putting this in my arsenal of tools to contribute my part.