As I write this, there are only a few hours left of 2021, and what to say about it? My reflections are a blur of Covid, Covid, Sheikh Jarrah and then more Covid. Perhaps ‘uncertainty’ has been the keyword of the year with many days spent scrolling the newsfeeds and saying, ‘we’ll know more tomorrow’.
Looking back on the events that occurred during the Spring in Jerusalem, I think we’re justified in calling what happened a little war even if it stopped short of full military action. Certainly, it was a serious escalation which resulted in widespread fear, the direct death of 274 people and the launching of several thousand rockets.
The neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah was broadcast around the world, and it felt like momentum was building which might result in a change: both for the Palestinian families facing eviction from their homes and for the several million other Palestinians who have lived under the shadow of Israeli occupation for decades.
When the short war came to an end with a ceasefire in May, I wrote that it would be insane to let this cycle continue, and that serious change was needed. Sadly, and would it be too cynical to say inevitably, as the year ends, it is difficult to find any progress to hang on to. Netanyahu has gone, Trump has gone but if anything, the new politicians are even less committed to peace negotiations than those who came before them.
Many NGOs from around the world pour in their sweat and worry to make life better for people on the ground and by and large they achieve that, but the framework remains the same. How can you deliver sustainable development when a system of apartheid is enshrined in law?
The fact that 2021 will end worse than it started for Palestinians is a situation that many are used to, if not resigned to. The residents of Sheikh Jarrah facing eviction will start a new year with no resolution to the legal challenges that have hung like nooses over their heads, in most cases for years. The Salem family were due to be evicted on 29 December and last week had the order postponed until late January. Several extra weeks of worry and uncertainty granted as if it was a gift given and a right to bestow.
This year, the poster man and woman of the Palestinian struggle were Muna and Mohammad Al-Kurd the 23-year-old twins from Sheikh Jarrah who continue to lead huge social media campaigns to defend their family home and raise awareness about Palestine globally. They have a combined following of over two million on Instagram and made it on to the Time 100 most influential people of 2021.
Last week, I read Mohammad’s first collection of poetry named after his late grandmother Rifqa. In places it reads like a diary and gives a poignant insight into the weight his family carries and what it has been like to be born into, and fight each day, under such a heavy system of oppression. The work is tragic and heavy but there is a steely grit, descended from Rifqa and others like her, that reveals that the backbone of resistance is as strong as ever. That alone, is the hope that will carry many Palestinians into the new year.
In amongst waves of Covid and political tensions, there have been some true highs for us as we’ve digged and delved into more corners of this incredible place. Top experiences have included tobacco picking in Zabuba, hiking in Zababdeh, touring Aboud, Wadi Fukin and around the Negev. As well as staying overnight in a luxury pad in Battir, on a converted bus in Majdal Shams, and discovering the joys of camping. There have been watery adventures hiking through rivers, snorkelling in the Red Sea and a personal favourite moment was baptising baby Daisy in the Jordan river at Qasr Al Yahud. There has been food to die for, olives picked and pressed, endless ka’ak and falafel that never gets boring. For me, life here continues to be a privilege and I go into the new year knowing that Palestine and the spirit of Palestine is alive and well despite the hardships endured.
Happy New Year to everyone! Rifqa can be borrowed from me or purchased from the Educational Bookshop.