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Sheikh Jarrah: solidarity in a shared city

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“When the first demonstration happened, I thought: how can they be Jewish?” In East Jerusalem, Israelis and Palestinians have joined forces to protest settlement expansion into Palestinian neighbourhoods. Six months after The Elders last visited the region, a new documentary tells the story of this shared struggle.

“Can you imagine living with someone you hate – in the same house?”

Palestinian teenager Mohammed El Kurd lives in Sheikh Jarrah, in the heart of East Jerusalem. When he was 11, he returned from school one day to find that Israeli settlers had taken over half of his house.

Mohammed El Kurd. Photo: Emily Smith

Mohammed El Kurd. Photo: Emily Smith

Jerusalem is divided by the 1967 Green Line – Israelis in the West, Palestinians in the East. But the city remains fiercely contested, claimed by both sides as their capital city in any eventual two-state solution.

Amid these competing visions for Jerusalem, often dominated by narratives of violence and exclusion, voices calling for a shared, peaceful future are often overlooked. A new documentary, My Neighbourhood, tries to bring these voices to the fore.

The film is set in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighbourhood in Jerusalem’s Palestinian quarter. The area is home to many Palestinian families who had fled fighting or been expelled from their homes when the state of Israel was created in 1948.

Although it lies east of the Green Line, outside Israel’s territory, Israeli settlers are waging a campaign for Jewish control of the area by displacing the Palestinians who live there – often using court-sanctioned evictions and occupying Palestinian homes.

When the Elders travelled to the Middle East last year to draw attention to the imperilled two-state solution, Gro Harlem Brundtland met with a group of Jerusalem residents to discuss the increasing restrictions Palestinians face in their daily lives.

Mohammed, then 14, spoke about the impact of the settlers’ actions on his family life: “They’re not a family; they’re young men. They get paid to annoy us. They say bad words when we pass, and spit at my grandmother.”

Mohammed also described his surprise at discovering that not all Israelis supported the settlers’ actions. When Sheikh Jarrah’s residents began to protest against the evictions of Palestinian families, Mohammed was shocked to meet Israelis willing to fight for his rights. Until then, the only Jewish people he’d encountered had been police officers or settlers:

“Three years ago, when the first demonstration happened, I thought: how can they be Jewish? Until I realised that not everyone is the same.”

My Neighbourhood charts how their campaign grows from small, local protests to peaceful rallies attracting thousands of people, documenting the friendship and solidarity that develops between the Palestinians struggling to stay in their neighbourhood and the Israeli activists who support them.

For Julia Bacha, who directed the film together with Rebekah Wingert Jabi, this spirit of cooperation represents a blueprint for Jerusalem as “a shared city that sets a tone of cooperation and mutual respect between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Since the film was made, relations between Palestinian residents and Israeli settlers have grown increasingly tense and dozens of families in Sheikh Jarrah still face the threat of eviction. Visit 972 Magazine’s Sheikh Jarrah News Hub for the latest developments.

Have you watched the film? Share your response in a comment, below.

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