MUNA el Kurd visited South Africa from October 15 to 27 and participated in a programme focused on youth and their responsibility to address social justice issues. MAHMOOD SANGLAY reports:
This was the second trip of the 23-year-old to South Africa, and the seventh country she has visited. Muna and her twin brother, Mohammed, have made the Time Magazine list of 100 most influential people in 2021.
However, according to one of the organisers of the Cape Town leg of the tour, Arshad Samodien, in Muna’s estimation, the more worthy accolade is that South Africans rank as the leading nation supporting the liberation of Palestine. Palestinian activists who visit South Africa routinely make this observation.
Muslim Views did not get an exclusive opportunity to interview Muna. However, we had an opportunity to speak to a fellow Palestinian, Abdallah Grifat, who organised the tour. Grifat now lives and works in South Africa but met Muna two years ago when she first visited South Africa with a delegation of youth in Johannesburg.
Muna’s activism started in 2009 when, as an eleven-year-old, she woke up one morning to literally find a settler sitting in their home in Sheikh Jarrah. Since 1972, Israeli settlers have sought means to confiscate the homes of Palestinians in various neighbourhoods.
However, the solidarity shown by neighbours and discussions that followed, shaped the views and inspired the iconic resistance unique to Palestinian youth. International solidarity followed as the youth resistance grew more popular on social media.
Muna is an extrovert and the grassroots activist while her brother is an introvert who is comfortable with quietly engaging intellectuals on matters of social justice. Grifat says that they complement each other as twin activists with opposite personality traits committed to the same struggle.
Muna used to dress as a clown and entertain children in the Holy City, and her sociable nature – together with her adept deployment of social media – is one of the reasons she and her brother have caught the imagination of the western world.
At present, Muna is a graduate in journalism and Mohammed is doing a course in poetry in New York while working for The Nation magazine as their Palestine correspondent.
The twins’ deceased grandmother was the key influence in their lives, having been displaced thrice by Israelis between Haifa, Jersualem and Nazareth between 1948 and 2009. Over several decades Israeli settlers have sought to claim land in Palestinian neighbourhoods.
The claims are challenged by Palestinians in Israeli courts, which automatically prejudices the Palestinians.
Mohammed says that settlers’ claims are submitted as evidence without authentication while the documents of Palestinians are not given any consideration by Israeli courts.
The absence of independent judicial oversight delegitimises the process under international law, hence the twins are particularly committed to use all available media platforms to focus global attention on the current Israeli injustice imposed on Palestinians.
One of the key points made by Mohammed in his mainstream media interviews focuses on challenging the language used by media to frame the issue, namely, the use of the term ‘eviction’ as opposed to ‘forced removals’.
He also points out that Israeli settler colonialism, occupation and apartheid should be recognised as the reality experienced by Palestinians, and that it should be reported as such.
The focus on young audiences at universities in the South African tour by Muna was strategic in that young Palestinians are emerging as both grassroots activists and intellectuals, distinct from established political formations, like the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
The contribution of Palestinian youth to the development of a more strategic methodology of activism and a more sophisticated narrative of the resistance is underscored preeminently by their navigation of a global social space, media and technology.
Muna and Mohammed are natives of Sheikh Jarrah yet they traverse the world for study and work while advocating resistance against Israeli settler colonialism at home.
The immediacy and sensory power of their advocacy is driven by the vibrance of skilled young visionaries committed to success and social justice.
And this breath of fresh air is further buoyed by the popularity of their advocacy due to the inclusive approach they have adopted.
Muna and Mohammed consistently speak of all of Palestine and the struggle of all Palestinians, and not just their personal struggle to save their home in Sheikh Jarrah.
In Muna’s visit to South Africa, she encountered almost overwhelming support for the cause of Palestinians. However, the overwhelming part is a double-edged sword. While she appreciated the tremendous solidarity of South Africans, she was not very comfortable, at times, with being treated like a celebrity.
Palestinian activists are acutely aware of the perils of popular advocacy, especially for attractive youth whose physical and virtual presence loom large in social justice discourse.