Palestine Dispatch: The Poet of Sheikh Jarrah

Mohammed El Kurd’s mother used to read poems aloud to her husband in their house in the East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. She sought his feedback before sending the poems to her editor at the newspaper she wrote for. When Mohammed was a child, he woke each morning to the sound of these tentative verses filtering into his bedroom from the kitchen.

Mohammed was still a child in 2009, when a group of radical Israeli settlers stormed his home and took over half the house. They tossed the family’s furniture in the front garden and set it aflame. The eviction became the subject for a documentary in which the 11 year-old Mohammed – bewildered both by the settlers’ actions and the Israelis who came to his family’s aid – acts as narrator. The documentary, inserted below, is infuriating.

At seventeen years-old, Mohammed is still, by some measures, a child. The settlers still occupy half the house his grandfather built in the 1950s and show no signs of leaving. Mohammed, though, won’t be there for much longer. Like his mother, Mohammed writes poetry. A college in Atlanta accepted him into a creative writing degree program and he will begin his studies in the fall.

I visited Mohammed in his home last week. He should’ve been studying for his upcoming high school exams. Instead we sat in the salon in front of Mohammed’s burdened bookcase and drank the mint tea his mother prepared for us. We talked about his poetry and about the Occupation. About gender issues and the primacy of justice over peace. Heady issues for a teenage scribe. Mohammed is a sensitive and thoughtful young poet whose vision – and perhaps that of his entire Palestinian generation – might be summed up in a question he poses in one of his poems. “What do you do when your destiny is already embroidered in the womb?”