In London, thousands cheered when Mohammed El-Kurd, the 25 year-old talented Palestinian journalist and poet finished his speech: “[…] we need to normalize massacres as the status quo.”
This was before he took to X to clarify that he misspoke, that he meant to say not normalize massacres (of Palestinians, he means). Whether he intended to say it or not is less interesting. The interesting part is in what he doesn’t say.
Of course, anyone who is “pro-Israel” or at least “anti-Hamas” will have oceans of disagreement with El-Kurd. Not inherently a bad thing. After all, neither Palestinians nor Israelis are going anywhere. So, we have to find a way to live with each other and somewhere down the road, I hope, we will need to have hard conversations and work at clearing the rubble that obstructs the road to peace. There are always going to be disagreements.
But what happens when you disregard the suffering of the other?
What happens when your narrative does not include any introspection, or any reflection on how “your side” contributes to perpetuating the conflict?
If I was asked to give my opinions and an overview of the conflict, I would include reflection on the Israeli side. I would discuss the settlements and the occupation. I would curse the fact that Netanyahu filled the government with incompetent zealous ultra-nationalists. I would acknowledge the Nakba and the tragic displacement and dispossession of Palestinians. And I would express my grief for the destruction and death in Gaza.
Regardless of what your politics is or what you believe about the origins of this conflict, you have to acknowledge that the “other side” suffers.
El-Kurd simply does not.
In a lengthy and detailed interview with Lex Fridman, he said, “I think Israelis are obsessed with genocide because they have enacted genocide against us.” Maybe Jews and Israelis are particularly concerned about genocide. But is it because Israel’s critics make accusations, or could it be – just maybe – because half the world’s Jewry was exterminated in a genocide?
When he was asked about Israelis being killed in terror attacks, he deflected and said some version of “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Terrorism, if anything, is the concern of Israelis and the cause for so much of their suffering. Yet, El-Kurd did not even give it a passing acknowledgement, much less devote time to incorporating the Israeli experience of terrorism into the conversation.
Though it’s true that regimes around the world have sometimes used the word “terrorist” to describe dissidents or people they don’t like, the word has a clear meaning that any reasonable individual can grasp: the intentional targeting of civilians for political means. When a Palestinian man breaks into a 13 year-old girl’s bedroom and stabs her to death in her bed, it’s terrorism. When a group of Jewish thugs kidnap a Palestinian youth and burn him alive, it’s terrorism. When a Palestinian shoots up a bar on Dizengoff street and murders innocent people, it’s terrorism. When Hamas death squads and gangs of Gazan civilians massacre, rape, and torture people to death and slaughter and kidnap whole families, it’s terrorism. But he disputes the standard definition of terrorism.
For El-Kurd, every single Palestinian action is a response to Israeli provocation. Rockets fired on Israeli population centers? It’s because of the blockade. Never mind that the blockade was a response to the rockets in the first place. Worried about Iran getting a nuclear bomb? You’re worried for no reason about “far away monsters” because it’s Israel that is “holding the noose.”
He points out questionable statements and ideas of Zionism’s first leaders, such as Herzl and Jabotinsky, but he makes no mention of Amin al Husseini, the most influential (and arguably the most detrimental) figure in Palestinian politics until Yasser Arafat and a resolute Nazi collaborator. He also dismisses the notion of Palestinian rejectionism, even though the Palestinians, before and after 1948, have actually rejected every peace offer.
Sure, I can continue to point out El-Kurd’s lack of engagement with the suffering and the narrative of Jews and Israelis. And it goes both ways – there are many on the Israeli side that don’t sufficiently acknowledge Palestinians suffering.
El-Kurd eloquently expresses his grievances, but there is nothing unique in what he says. What I want to emphasize is the generalized siloing of narratives, a phenomenon for which El-Kurd provides a clear example.
Yossi Klein Halevi, author of Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor and long-time peace activist, was on point when he said, “Tragically, each side has tried, at different stages of the conflict, to deny the legitimacy of the other’s national identity, to rationalize the other out of existence.’’
While Israel bears its responsibility to ameliorate the situation, Palestinians must also shoulder responsibility for the current state of the crisis and its blood-stained history.
It’s true that in the wake of the October 7 massacre and the war in Gaza, peace seems more distant than ever. It seems that without a massive geo-political paradigm shift, the obstacles to peace are insurmountable.
But surely the ultimate goal must be for two peoples and two narratives to live together in peace while still being connected to the cold facts and the history of the conflict. And we’re not going to get there if members of each side continue to cling to the story of their own suffering exclusively.
El-Kurd, originally from the contentious Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, has a huge following, including in the West. He is very well-spoken and knowledgeable. But he should take a hard look at himself and the anti-Israel crowd. I’m talking about those cheering when he – regardless of whether it was a mistake or not – advocates for the massacre of innocent people. If he indeed wants a better future for his descendants, he needs to reflect on how his words – or lack thereof – obstruct the way forward.