Student Life

Activist El-Kurd Showcases What Resilience Looks Like

The room was thick with silence as Mohammed El-Kurd spoke of the May 2021 besiegement of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Palestine. Tear gas bombarded his home as soldiers dragged him and others into the streets. On social media, he was criticized for the language he used to express his outrage. But the audience in Hunter West 714 erupted into loud applause as he turned from the moderator to face them and say, “I still stand by what I said.”

The poet and outspoken Palestinian rights activist shared his experiences living under occupation, the importance of speaking up against oppression, and biased media coverage among other issues to a standing-room-only crowd last Friday.

When visitors highlighted the difference in media coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine compared to issues in the Middle East, El-Kurd, 23, encouraged the audience not to be distracted by it. El-Kurd, also the Palestine correspondent for The Nation, said the media’s use of different vocabularies is an opportunity to highlight disparity.

Two students brought up that people from the Middle East aren’t seen as victims in the same way the Ukrainians currently are. In late February, the Prime Minister of Bulgaria told reporters that Ukrainians are, “Not the refugees we are used to, these people are European,” calling them “intelligent” and “educated.”

Donia Mohamed, a sophomore at John Jay College, said this difference in language and support is not a surprise. “It’s very unfair,” the English major said, “But expected.”

Almost one million Palestinians were exiled from their homes in 1948 during what’s called the Nakba, or Palestinian Struggle, that led to the creation of the Israeli state. Twenty-eight families, one of them El-Kurd’s, were given housing units in East Jerusalem after the expulsion. Sheikh Jarrah became a refugee housing area holding these families.

In early 2021, a district court issued a decision to evict six of these families — 27 people in total — in order to provide space for Israeli settlers.

El-Kurd and his twin sister Muna were a part of the many civilians taking to the streets to protest this in May 2021. Muna garnered much attention in a viral video of her defending her home from Israeli settler, Yakub, a Long Island native who claimed ownership of her home in Sheikh Jarrah.

In the packed lecture hall, El-Kurd admitted to feeling guilt. He said it’s easier for an English-speaking area like Sheikh Jarrah to receive media attention compared to places like Gaza — a Palestinian territory where homes were demolished and families were pulled out of rubble during the crisis.

El-Kurd has been in the public eye since he was a young boy, even writing an open letter to Obama regarding the eviction of his home. But during the conversation at Hunter, he questioned why it’s common for Palestinian children to be the ones communicating such intense issues.

“It’s not my responsibility for you to see me as a human. That’s your problem,” he said.

The hosts of the event, The Palestine Solidarity Alliance at Hunter, reported roughly 250 attendees and an overflowing waitlist holding students from an array of CUNY schools.

In June 2021, both El-Kurd and his sister Muna were detained by Israeli authorities for protesting and documenting the treatment they endured. Later that year, TIME magazine named them among the 100-most influential people in the world.

El-Kurd signing copies of his book, “Rifqa” after the Q&A

After the discussion, El-Kurd stayed to talk to students and sign copies of his debut book, “Rifqa,” a collection of poetry named after his grandmother. At one point he stood up to sign a young woman’s keffiyeh, a fish-net patterned black-and-white scarf, widely known to represent the Palestinian struggle and the push to persevere.

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