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Israeli Kurds fight Palestinian Kurds in Jerusalem
The story of Itamar Ben-Gvir and Mohammed El Kurd's family background is the story of how the post-Ottoman space came undone.
Itamar ben-Gvir and Mona El Kurd are familiar faces in Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem. El Kurd is a Palestinian activist from the neighborhood, and Ben-Gvir is a right-wing Israeli member of parliament who supports efforts to push out the Palestinian residents. Last month, ben-Gvir pulled a gun on protesters there.
You may know El Kurd from her viral video, “you are stealing my house.” Ben-Gvir, meanwhile, is likely to win a position in the new Israeli cabinet. He’s aiming to be for Minister of Internal Security.
I found out recently that ben-Gvir is the son of a Kurd, and that sent me down a rabbit hole. Does El Kurd also have Kurdish roots, as her name suggests? Is the fight over Sheikh Jarrah a Kurdish civil war?
The Kurdish Peace Institute published a short writeup I did on the topic. The story of how ben-Gvir became Israeli — and why El Kurd doesn’t identify as Kurdish — is the story of Middle Eastern nationalism over the last century, and how the region’s diversity came undone.
More Kurds came as imperial officers, religious scholars, and merchants under Ottoman rule. The Kurd family arrived in Sheikh Jarrah as refugees from Jaffa, where retired Kurdish soldiers had settled down during the 19th century. Across the present-day border with Jordan, the city of Salt was well known for its Ottoman Kurdish elites. One of the main neighborhoods in the old town is called Wadi al-Akrad, “the valley of Kurds.” An Ottoman military cemetery overlooks it.
Ghassan Kanafani, intellectual leader of the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, came from a family in Acre with well-known Kurdish roots. In a twist of historic fate, Popular Front militants ended up fighting alongside the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in the Lebanese civil war. Kanafani did not live to see this cooperation, as he was assassinated by Israeli intelligence in 1972.…
Some Jewish Kurds came as supporters of the Zionist movement. Moshe Barzani, a Kurdish militant in the far-right Lehi organization, became one of Israel’s first martyrs by blowing himself up in a British military prison in 1947.
Others fled sectarian violence in Kurdistan. Iraqi Jews were increasingly left out of the Arab nationalist identity, and were targeted in a brutal pro-Nazi riot in 1941. In the aftermath of the 1948 war, the Iraqi government treated its Jewish citizens with outright hostility, menacing them and stripping them of rights. Most Jews were evacuated from Iraq to Israel over the following three years.
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