#SheikhJarrah: from the Jerusalem neighborhood to the global hashtag
For decades, Sheikh Jarrah was just another neighborhood in Israel-annexed East Jerusalem, but his story has gone viral online since protests erupted against the planned eviction of Palestinians from their homes.
“We have succeeded (…) not only in shedding light on the colonization in Jerusalem, but also on the rights of the Palestinians to defend themselves, their right to resist the occupier and their right to their own narrative,” he said. declared Muhammad el-Kurd.
The 23-year-old poet and writer, one of those at risk of losing their home, has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the issue and has thus gained over 180,000 followers on Twitter and over half a million on Instagram .
“From the start of the campaign, our speech has been extremely clear. We are talking about colonialism and colonization – not just human rights violations,” he said.
Protests in Sheikh Jarrah spread early last month to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, sparking a crackdown by Israeli security forces against Palestinians.
This sparked an 11-day war between the Jewish state and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, which in turn sparked global protests in favor of the Palestinians.
The hashtags #SheikhJarrah and #SaveSheikhJarrah have gone viral.
Celebrities from actors Mark Ruffalo and Viola Davis to Manchester City footballer Riyad Mahrez have posted about the neighborhood on social media.
– ‘Unprecedented change’ –
Kurd called the situation in Sheikh Jarrah a “small sample of Zionist settler colonialism in Jerusalem and Palestine in general” which reflected “the balance of power.”
“Everyone could see that we are facing a racist legal system that was written to protect and support the settlers,” he said.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, later annexing it in a move never recognized by the international community.
Under Israeli law, Jewish groups can claim land that belonged to Jews before the founding of Israel in 1948, even if Palestinian families have lived there for decades.
Palestinians whose ancestors became refugees during the 1948 war have no way of reclaiming their homes or lands in present-day Israel.
Israeli right-wing groups Ir Amim say up to 1,000 Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and neighboring Silwan district are at risk of displacement.
Outside his home, half of which was taken over in 2009 by a Jewish settler, Kurd said he was online from morning till night.
“We have seen an unprecedented shift in public opinion around the world,” said Kurd, who speaks impeccable English and is studying for a master’s degree in the United States.
“I think what made the hashtag #SaveSheikhJarrah so successful was the narrative we used,” the slim youngster said.
Behind him, Israeli flags fluttered over a house occupied by settlers after his neighbors were evicted.
“People have started to understand the Sheikh Jarrah affair and colonialism in general in Jerusalem,” said the young Palestinian, whose twin sister Mona is also very active on social media.
“Even though we fail to save homes, we have done something bigger.”
– Platforms ‘silence Palestinians’ –
Kurd said the huge increase in the number of viewers and fans showed there was a “thirst for Palestinian reality”.
Palestinian families in the neighborhood say they were given the keys to their homes from the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees and Jordan, which controlled East Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967.
Last month, as tensions in Jerusalem mounted amid escalating fighting in Gaza, the Israeli Supreme Court postponed a hearing in the Sheikh Jarrah case until further notice.
But Kurd said he had no faith in Israeli justice.
He also cautioned against apparent attempts by social media platforms to silence Palestinian activists, including when posting images of Israeli security forces using violence against protesters.
Digital rights group Sada Social claims to have documented more than 700 cases of such networks restricting access or removing Palestinian content in May alone.
“At one point, we weren’t able to post anything on Sheikh Jarrah without it being removed,” Kurd said.
“We received numerous warnings that our accounts would be deleted, and sometimes our views would drop from a quarter of a million to 90,000 or just 5,000.”
Despite such obstacles, he said the impact of the campaign surprised him.
“I didn’t believe that a message or a photo could change anything in reality,” he said. “But I have found that our first and last battle is a battle of words, the battle of narratives and the battle of public opinion.”
And for the people of Sheikh Jarrah, this is not a fight they can afford to lose.
“We don’t have the luxury of letting go of the problem,” he said. “As soon as we do, our homes could be robbed at any time.”
© 2021 AFP