Letters From the November 15/22, 2021, Issue

Letters From the November 15/22, 2021, Issue

Letters From the November 15/22, 2021, Issue

Readers respond to the hiring of Mohammed El-Kurd as Palestine correspondent.


Born in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, Mohammed El-Kurd has witnessed the brutality of Israeli occupation his entire life, including the invasion of his family home by settlers when he was a boy of 11. As a poet his voice is powerful, penetrating—and impossible to ignore. And that makes him a dangerous man. His debut poetry collection, Rifqa, just published, is named for his grandmother, who as it happens shares the name of my grandmother—only hers was in Yiddish.

Nearly 20 years ago, one of the first pieces I wrote for The Nation from London looked forward to “the day when the Palestinians themselves can also be heard, and when the lives of Palestinian children count as much as those of Israeli children, or Americans.” The Nation’s decision to tap El-Kurd as our Palestine correspondent reflects that aspiration and that commitment.

Since adding El-Kurd to our masthead, Nation editors have received a torrent of abuse—much of it too foul to publish. We’ve also been sent hundreds of identical letters accusing us of giving a platform to terror and anti-Semitism. We will not be intimidated by people who think slander is the way to win an argument.

Thankfully, we’ve also received many letters in support of our decision to let Palestinians speak for themselves—a policy The Nation pioneered long ago with Edward Said, and one we hope others in the US media will follow. Some Americans may find what El Kurd says challenging, but given our entanglement in the Middle East, it is absolutely imperative that we are given the chance to listen.

—D.D. Guttenplan

Mohammed El-Kurd is a preeminent voice of a new generation of Palestinians continuing decades-long resistance to Israeli colonialism and military and settler violence. This spring, El-Kurd provided the world a window into settler attempts—backed by Israeli police—to evict and cleanse Palestinians, including the El-Kurd family, from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem. Because of Mohammed and his sister Muna’s prolific social media feeds, people around the world were able to see Israeli state violence firsthand, as well as the brazenness of settlers like Yakob, a New Yorker who candidly named his intention to steal and settle a Palestinian home.

Minimal and biased media coverage meant that El-Kurd was a crucial source of news for hundreds of thousands around the world. And as #SaveSheikhJarrah trended on social media, El-Kurd and other Palestinians broadcasting Israel’s violence faced mass censorship on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.

Now right-wing Zionist organizations are smearing El-Kurd with false accusations and pressuring The Nation to fire its only Palestine correspondent for unapologetically exposing the racist brutality of Israel’s colonial project.

My organization, Palestine Legal, stands firmly with Mohammed El-Kurd and The Nation as they elevate the experiences of those most affected by Israel’s colonial violence—something largely missing from media coverage of the issue. Having responded to nearly 2,000 incidents of suppression of Palestine advocacy since 2014, we see the efforts to discredit El-Kurd and deny him a platform for what they are: desperate attempts to silence the truth.

Right-wing supporters of Israel frequently target journalists such as Mohammed, Marc Lamont Hill, and Emily Wilder due to their ability to reach and influence millions in support of Palestinian liberation. The bogus campaign against Mohammed replicates the dynamics that students, academics, activists, and ordinary people across the US face daily for working towards justice in Palestine.

Some of the same organizations currently targeting El-Kurd have also targeted the Palestinian student body vice president at CUNY Law School, Nerdeen Kiswani; IfNotNow cofounder Simone Zimmerman; and Representative Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who was absurdly named an “Anti-Semite of the Week” for introducing legislation that would prohibit US taxpayer funding for the military detention of children by any country, including Israel.

We saw an uptick in the backlash against Palestine advocates during this spring’s solidarity protests, but we are also seeing a wave of people mobilized to speak out for Palestinian freedom. The courageous work of El-Kurd and the principled positions people are taking for Palestinian rights pose a hard reality for Israel and its allies: You can no longer hide the truth of Israel’s wrongdoing, and you can’t silence its messengers.

Dima Khalidi
Director, Palestine Legal

There are few individuals who can personally be credited with generating a seismic shift in the discourse around a political cause. Mohammed El-Kurd is undoubtedly one of them. Grounded by his community in Sheikh Jarrah, and together with his sister Muna, El-Kurd has left an indelible mark on the way Palestine is talked about in the international media. That imprint is set to deepen with his new post at The Nation, which I am following from Haifa with great excitement.

By bringing on El-Kurd as its Palestine correspondent, The Nation is helping to correct a major historical wrong. Palestinians have long been robbed of the ability to narrate our struggle in the United States, forced to watch while others articulated our stories without us. To this day, we are being turned away from mainstream platforms, dismissed as untrustworthy sources, and vilified as racists for questioning a regime that, in its own words and deeds, defines racial supremacy as the lifeblood of its existence.

Through his incredible work at just 23 years of age, El-Kurd has been pivotal in overturning this skewed media landscape. He has demonstrated not only that Palestinians are fully capable of speaking for themselves but also that they are the most important narrators of both their oppression and their aspirations. In the same vein, Mohammed has encouraged his fellow Palestinians to be more courageous with their own words, and to abandon the fears that had shackled our discourse for so long. It is thanks to his example, among countless others, that many Palestinian writers and activists like myself feel freer to speak our minds today than we did just half a year ago. And for that, we are indebted to him.

El-Kurd, of course, is one out of millions working to build a new media ecosystem around Palestine-Israel, and these millions will not always speak in the same voice. But his place at The Nation is a critical part of that rising movement, and we are proud to stand with him as we carve out our path to dignity and justice for all.

Amjad Iraqi
Editor, +972 Magazine

I don’t know Mohammed El-Kurd personally, but I have been hearing about him for years. As long ago as 2012, a friend who was active in the Sheikh Jarrah solidarity movement told me about him, this brilliant, brave, sweet, sensitive boy that I absolutely had to meet. Settlers had at that point taken over half of El-Kurd’s family’s house. (Quite literally: They split it in half and lived side by side in what must have been an unbearable intimacy.) The El-Kurds were living in fear of eviction and of horrendous violence, but also with the daily realities of the occupation at its ugliest and most personal level: constant insults, harassment, threats, and humiliation, a level of insecurity that is impossible for most of us to imagine.

I never ended up meeting him, but I was not surprised when, this past spring, evictions were once again pending in Sheikh Jarrah, and El-Kurd, all grown up, emerged as a powerful voice of dissent. To be a vocal opponent of injustice in Jerusalem, if you are Palestinian, means becoming a target. Outspoken Palestinians, especially if they are as charismatic and eloquent as El-Kurd, are smeared as terrorists, extremists, anti-Semites. The result is that, time and again, Palestinians get silenced. The threat they pose to the unbearable status quo is kicked once again into the dark.

The Nation has for years been a bright and brave exception to the general censorship that pervades US media reporting on Palestine. It is one thing, of course, to give a platform to American Jews who are critical of Israel, and another thing entirely to give Palestinians the opportunity to speak for themselves. El-Kurd’s perspective and his voice are irreplaceable, and I am eagerly looking forward to his next dispatch.

Ben Ehrenreich

I want to commend The Nation for creating the position of Palestine correspondent and hiring Mohammed El-Kurd in that role. Before his powerful piece on Beita [“A Night With Palestine’s Defenders of the Mountain,” online only], I don’t think most American readers knew what they had been missing. Now they do. I don’t allow myself too much optimism about Israel-Palestine, but I confess that, upon reading El-Kurd’s first piece as Palestine correspondent, I couldn’t help but think that your move will be mimicked by other publications, whose editors will one day look back upon their current coverage with shame.
Nathan Thrall

I write to commend The Nation for making Mohammed El-Kurd part of your team. He brings a voice from the heart of Palestine, bearing witness to the daily realities Palestinians face on the ground and sharing them with your readers. What a breath of fresh air! El-Kurd is also no novice at this. For years, I have watched him closely as he has been telling his story, his family’s story, and Palestine’s story to the world via social media.

For too long, voices like El-Kurd’s have been missing from our conversation, and reporting on Palestinians’ lived experiences, through Palestinian eyes, is desperately needed. Sure, there will be those dedicated to Israel’s apartheid project who will bristle at the idea that a Palestinian view would be so represented in your pages. Such ire is but further evidence of the need for El-Kurd’s voice.

El-Kurd also comes from a generation of Palestinians that will have far more to do with shaping the future on the ground than the leaders of the past. Your readers are served well by reading the reporting he will bring, and I hope they will pay careful attention to his contributions. I know I will.

Yousef Munayyer
Non-resident Fellow, Arab Center
washington, d.c.

As a professor at Brooklyn College, where Mohammed El-Kurd is getting his MFA in poetry, I was thrilled to learn that he had been hired as your Palestine correspondent. This is an excellent move for The Nation and the nation. We are desperately in need, in this country, of the kind of eye and ear El-Kurd has brought to bear on the situation in Palestine, and it’s a credit to your magazine that he now will have a place in your pages.
Corey Robin
Distinguished Professor of Political Science
Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center

The Nation has done a great thing by appointing Mohammed El-Kurd as its Palestine correspondent. There are no Palestine correspondents in the mainstream US media, for no possible reason other than the assumption—even now—that Palestinians, uniquely, are not to be trusted in the telling of their own lives. You have opened the door to change, a change that could go some way toward correcting the grossly lopsided American coverage of Israel and Palestine. I’m thrilled to read El-Kurd in your pages. I’m grateful to The Nation for doing what’s right.
Riva Hocherman
new york city

Readers of Edward Said will be familiar with the idea that the continuing colonization of Palestine is accomplished not only by conquering territory but also through controlling the narrative of who belongs on the land. For decades, Palestinians have been ignored, silenced, shunned, maligned, criminalized, ridiculed, and caricatured when presenting their stories and making their claims. They have been denied the “permission to narrate” their own experiences, histories, and aspirations, to use the memorable phrase coined by Said. To speak as a Palestinian is to show the world that Palestinians exist, an astonishingly simple fact that is at the same time a stark reminder of continuing national dispossession.

Breaking this suppression of Palestinian points of view is paramount if just solutions for Palestinians and Israelis are ever to be forged. For this reason, The Nation has done its readers a profound service by signing Mohammed El-Kurd as its first ever Palestine correspondent. El-Kurd is a highly respected writer whose contributions to the magazine have already set him far apart from the usual heartless pundits who write about Palestinian lives as if they are as disposable as tea bags. His eulogy for his grandmother Rifqa was at once a requiem for a life fully lived and a reminder of the ongoing assault on Palestinian lives, particularly in Sheikh Jarrah, where the El-Kurd family lives. His dispatches from the region have been illuminating and important, gaining him and his sister Muna audiences around the world. (Both brother and sister were named among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people this year.) El-Kurd is also the author of a highly anticipated book of poetry titled Rifqa (Haymarket), after his aforementioned grandmother. His future dispatches will no doubt continue to be incisive and analytical, of benefit to anyone who cares about the future of this region.

Anyone who has ever written a word about Palestinians, both as people and as a people, knows to expect a full-throated attack full of ad hominem abuse along with heavy-handed attempts to silence speech. And yet, the ground is shifting. After enormous struggles on the ground and in the realm of media (new media in particular), Palestinian perspectives are more available now than ever before. The Electronic Intifada, al-Shabaka, the Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU), among others, provide important venues for Palestinian debate. Other outlets, such as Mondoweiss, +972 Magazine, and Jewish Currents regularly feature Palestinian writers and discuss Palestinian issues in serious fashion. And now The Nation, America’s oldest continuously published weekly magazine, hires Mohammed el-Kurd as its correspondent. Palestinians are narrating their stories, without relying on anyone’s permission, and all people of good conscience ought to listen.
Moustafa Bayoumi
Professor of English
Brooklyn College

When I first heard that The Nation was bringing on Mohammed El-Kurd as a Palestine correspondent, I was both surprised and impressed. Surprised because, like all Palestinians, I am accustomed to a norm in Western media that systematically denigrates and erases us. And impressed, because I saw The Nation’s decision as a bold, public choice to affirm the humanity of the Palestinian people and the legitimacy of their struggle for liberation. This is in keeping with the magazine’s legacy of publishing leading voices of social and racial justice, from Hannah Arendt and Emma Goldman to W.E.B. Du Bois and James Baldwin.

The choice of El-Kurd was itself striking: He, along with his sister Muna, represent a new wave in the Palestinian resistance movement. Young, courageous, and relentless, El-Kurd’s politics are grassroots, inclusive, and edged with the conviction that there is little left to lose. Born in the besieged neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, his life has been marked by the violence and settler colonialism that lie at the root of the entire Israeli-Palestinian “conflict.” Like many Palestinians, El-Kurd has spent his life facing crushing military force and attempts at ethnic cleansing condoned by global indifference. And his response has been simple: to tell the truth.

We Palestinians know that telling our truth will always come at a price. For some of us, it may be “merely” professional, relational, or emotional—the stinging silence of our friends, stonewalling by an editor, a harsh dismissal in the classroom. We are often labeled anti-Semitic, a claim that wrongly conflates the modern State of Israel with an ancient, diverse, and beautiful religion (and cheapens the real harm perpetrated by those who are actually bigoted against the Jewish people).

Other times, we are charged with supporting “terrorism”—another term that has been weaponized to near oblivion. In this we are in good company: Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela was labeled a terrorist by the US government until 2008. Mahatma Gandhi was arrested on charges of sedition. Martin Luther King Jr. was accused of inciting violence and extremism. Unarmed Black Lives Matter protestors and Native water protectors alike have been targeted as terrorists. The list goes on.

Despite the disproportionate suffering we face, what most Palestinians, including El-Kurd, seek is not revenge but justice. We raise our voices not to claim victimhood but as a cry of one humanity to another. We are not interested in denigrating Jews, or any other group, for that matter—we are clamoring for a world in which everyone, ourselves included, can live with dignity and safety. And, to the horror of our oppressors, more and more people are listening.

Sarah Aziza

I am writing to thank you and thank The Nation for its brave decision to hire Mohammed El-Kurd as its Palestine correspondent. The reason I am describing your decision as brave is because of your defiance of the typical erasure and constant silencing of Palestinian voices in this country, especially in mainstream media. I learned this first hand when in 2017, my colleague Andy Trimlett and I released our documentary 1948: Creation & Catastrophe, after 15 years of researching this history, filming in 7 countries, and interviewing both Palestinians and Israelis, in addition to most authority historians on the topic. There was a massive attack campaign against us, especially me, and our film that was judged by many academicians as well-researched and fair. It became clear to me that (1) Palestinians are not allowed to contribute to their own narrative in this country; a narrative of dispossession, oppression, and continuous genocide; (2) that any attempt to do so will be crushed and silenced. However, it is not possible anymore, with the revolution in information technology and social media, to hide the truth of the Israeli apartheid system, and your decision makes you a leader in seeking truth and justice in every corner of the globe. Thank you again for insisting on principled journalistic integrity and balanced reporting.

Ahlam Muhtaseb
Professor of Communication Studies
California State University, San Bernardino
San Bernardino, Calif.

I’m writing to express my deepest appreciation to The Nation for hiring Mohammed El-Kurd as a correspondent. It is unfortunately an incredibly brave and unusual move in the US media for Palestinians to have a platform, which only illustrates how necessary it is for that to change. Thank you for being leaders at this crucial moment.

El-Kurd offers his passionate, visceral, and, most important, unexpurgated voice to your readers, which is what makes reading his writing so important and exciting. And perhaps this new position may begin to counter the frustration of several generations of Palestinian writers who have not been able to narrate their own stories in the US media as they experience them.

I was moved to write this note because, as the former executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, I have had a great deal of experience with the backlash and attacks that so often follow such a move, which so squarely takes on the shibboleths of this issue. The pressure can feel enormously overwhelming and is, in fact, designed to do so. It is very much of a piece with the bullying that students, faculty, clergy, elected officials, and other figures or institutions often face when speaking out or taking action. Luckily, that terrain is shifting, and The Nation‘s decision to hire El-Kurd is helping to make it easier for others to make similar decisions, while offering your readers a unique and powerful perspective they can find nowhere else.

Rebecca Vilkomerson

I got chills reading Mohammed El-Kurd’s “A Night with Palestine’s Defenders of the Mountain,” in The Nation. Rarely have I come across such a poignant—and accurate—portrayal of the Palestinians’ struggle for freedom.

For far too long, US media coverage has used the language of “conflict” and “peace” to frame Palestinian-Israeli dynamics. The implication is that if only both sides compromised a bit more, we would have an end to the conflict, and everyone could live in peace.

But this framework presumes that both sides have equal power. They don’t. As El-Kurd’s reporting makes clear, Israelis are building settlements on stolen Palestinian land, not the other way around. Israeli soldiers are shooting Palestinian protesters, not the other way around. And Israeli settlers are setting fire to Palestinian homes, not the other way around.

I see El-Kurd as part of a new generation of Palestinian writers, intellectuals, and activists who are challenging the traditional language that we have used for so long to describe this region. At just 23 years old, he is connected to a global network of Millennial and Gen Z activists who are sharp in their thinking about what words mean. And they are using social media in savvy ways to popularize terms that highlight the power asymmetry found in their respective struggles, terms like “settler colonialism” and “apartheid.”

This new language—and the defiant attitude that comes with it—are sure to rankle people who are used to thinking of Palestinians as either victims or villains. El-Kurd and the Palestinian defenders of the mountain are neither. And if we ever want to see a just peace in the region, we had better start listening to them.

Maha Nassar
Associate Professor, Modern Middle East History, Islamic Studies
University of Arizona

tucson, ariz.

Mohammed El-Kurd is determined to spread hatred for the Jewish people and nation and to create even further division between Israelis and Palestinians. At a time when unity is so desperately needed, El-Kurd is the last person The Nation should be showcasing as their Palestinian voice.

El-Kurd had the audacity to absolve Hamas of any wrongdoing during the May 2021 escalation, despite the fact that the terror group fired over 4,500 missiles on Israeli civilian populations. Moreover, El-Kurd blamed Israel for daring to defend her citizens and referred to teenage Hamas soldiers as innocent children. “The myth of Israeli self-defense relies inherently on public ignorance,” he tweeted.

El-Kurd has glorified and whitewashed terrorists, spread hatred of the Jewish nation, and expressed horrific vitriol on social media. In 2020, he posted a photo of terrorist Leila Khaled with a knife and a submachine gun, referring to her as a “freedom fighter.” Khaled is a convicted PLFP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) terrorist who was imprisoned for hijacking two airplanes with Jewish passengers, which resulted in a flight attendant getting shot.

Caren Leven
Executive Director,
Baltimore Zionist District

I suppose, given your magazine’s long history of anti-Semitism—er, sorry, your profoundly progressive anti-Israel bias—I should not be surprised that you’ve hired the notorious liar, fake news writer, terrorist supporter, and racist bigot Mohammed El-Kurd as your “Palestine correspondent.” Way to go! Goebbels would be proud. The Nation: one of America’s best sources of fake news and Islamist propaganda! You’re turning it into Pravda. You should be ashamed.

Harry Koza

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