Mohammed El Kurd is a Palestinian boy born and raised in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. At age 11, Mohammed comes home from school to find half of his home taken over by Israeli settlers and his grandmother hospitalized. Forced to live under the same roof as the settlers, Mohammed quickly develops deep feelings of animosity towards Israelis. Yet when Israeli activists begin arriving in the neighbourhood to join Palestinian residents in protests against the evictions, Mohammed is surprised. “These are Jews? How can they be Jews?”, he asks himself, adding that he soon learned that “opinions differ within societies.” Mohammed gradually develops relationships with Zvi and other Israeli activists, and becomes committed to nonviolent strategies to regain his home and stop the evictions.
Zvi Benninga is an Israeli medical student who grew up in West Jerusalem. When he hears about the evictions taking place in Sheikh Jarrah, he and his sister Sara begin attending protests regularly. He believes the evictions and settlements are destroying the moral fabric of Israeli society and making a pluralistic future in Jerusalem impossible. Before long, Zvi and Sara convince their parents, who are initially uncomfortable with the idea of challenging the Israeli authorities, to join the protests. Reflecting on his activism, Zvi says: “On the one hand [my activism] made me much more critical towards the place where I live. On the other hand it really connected me to this place. It made me realize that I care about what happens here and that I stay so I can be involved.”
Rifka El Kurd is Mohammed’s grandmother, and has been living in the El Kurd family home in Sheikh Jarrah for over half a century. She first arrived in the neighbourhood as a refugee in the 1950s, after her family had been displaced from Haifa in the 1948 War. Rifka hopes the protests in the neighbourhood can help her regain her home, yet she is wary of Israeli participation in the struggle. “If you want to hear the truth, I don’t really trust them,” she says. “You’re telling me they will leave their people…their religion and join us? It’s not logical.”
Yonatan Yosef is the spokesperson for the Israeli settlers living in Sheikh Jarrah. He sees the settlement of Jews in the neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem as a religious duty and an integral part of the Jewish “Return to Zion.” According to Yonatan, the eviction of Palestinian families is a necessary side effect in this effort. “Our dream is that all East Jerusalem will be like West Jerusalem:” Yonatan says, “A Jewish capital of Israel.”