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Police arrest Sheikh Jarrah activist twins, claiming they participated in riots

Dozens protest detaining of Muna al-Kurd, who has over 1 million followers on Instagram where she posts against evictions; Foreign Press Association pans earlier arrest of reporter

Muna al-Kurd testifies before the UN Human Rights Council on May 27, 2021. (Screen capture/YouTube)
Muna al-Kurd testifies before the UN Human Rights Council on May 27, 2021. (Screen capture/YouTube)

Police arrested a prominent Palestinian activist in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on Sunday as tensions in the city crept back toward levels seen ahead of last month’s Gaza war, her family said.

Muna al-Kurd, who has 1.3 million followers on Instagram, where she posts about the looming evictions of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, was picked up by police in her home on allegations that she participated in “riots” in the East Jerusalem neighborhood that has become a protest hotspot in recent months.

Police did not respond to a request for additional information about the arrest of the 24-year-old, who was released later in the day.

Al-Kurd’s twin brother, Muhammad, another activist in the neighborhood who frequently railed against the evictions in the Arabic press, turned himself in at a police station in the city Sunday after law enforcement informed his parents that they were looking to arrest him as well. He was also released several hours later.

“Israel is fighting my daughter because she is telling the story of Sheikh Jarrah,” Muna’s father, Nabil al-Kurd, said in a video posted to social media after her arrest.

“She does not behave violently toward anyone. The whole purpose of this arrest is to silence her, to silence the voices of protest in the neighborhood,” he said.

Nabil al-Kurd said police “stormed the house in large numbers and in a barbaric manner.”

“I was sleeping, and I found them in my bedroom,” he said. Police then searched the house and arrested his daughter. Video posted on social media showed her being taken away in handcuffs.

“The reason for the arrest is that we say that we will not leave our homes, and they do not want anyone to express their opinion, they do not want anyone to tell the truth,” he said. “They want to silence us.”

The siblings’ lawyer, Nasser Odeh, told journalists outside the police station that his clients were accused of “disturbing public security and participation in nationalistic riots.”

Activists accused Israeli police of trying to “silence” voices of dissent in Sheikh Jarrah days before the deadline for Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to submit his position on the looming evictions to the Supreme Court.

The land in question was owned by Jews before the 1948-49 Independence War, when it was seized by Jordan and leased to Palestinian families. After Israel captured the area in the 1967 war, a 1970 Israeli law transferred all abandoned properties still held by the Jordanian government, including the Sheikh Jarrah homes, to the custody of the Israeli government. The law further obligated the release of properties to original owners when possible. The Jewish trusts that had owned the site appealed for its return to their hands, sparking a five-decade legal battle between the trusts and the Palestinian residents.

Israel says the issue is a private property dispute to be adjudicated by the courts. Palestinian residents argue that the demand to reclaim the site is part of a campaign by Israeli settlement groups to displace them and replace their community with a Jewish one.

Dozens of Palestinians protested outside the Jerusalem police station where al-Kurd was being held and officers used riot dispersal munitions to scatter them, including stun grenades and smoke bombs, footage posted to social media showed.

The arrests came a day after Israeli police nabbed Al Jazeera correspondent Givara Budeiri while she was reporting from a protest in Sheikh Jarrah.

Police claimed she assaulted officers, charges she has denied.

The Foreign Press Association’s Israel and the Palestinian Territories chapter issued a rare statement of condemnation Sunday about the arrest, accusing officers of using excessive force when grabbing her, which led to a broken arm.

“According to accounts from colleagues at the scene as well as videos captured by bystanders, she was arrested without provocation. The reporter was clearly identified as a journalist and wore protective equipment, including a vest that said ‘press,’ and police refused to allow her to return to her car to show them her Israeli-issued press card,” the FPA said.

“This is the latest in a long line of heavy-handed tactics by Israeli police in recent weeks against clearly identified journalists — including the use of stun grenades, tear gas, sponge-tipped bullets and the spraying of skunk water,” the organization added, calling on the police force to punish officers involved and allow journalists to do their jobs free of intimidation.

“They came from everywhere, I don’t know why. They kicked me to the wall,” Budeiri recalled. “They kicked me inside the car in a very bad way… they were kicking me from everywhere.”

Footage from the scene showed the correspondent’s broken camera equipment on the floor after she was taken into custody.

According to reports, Budeiri received a 15-day restraining order barring her from the neighborhood following her release from custody.

According to the police, demonstrations taking place in the neighborhood at the time saw protesters hurling stones and launching fireworks toward officers.

Separately on Sunday, Haaretz reported that during meetings with Defense Minister Benny Gantz in Washington last week, senior Biden administration officials expressed their concern over the latest Jerusalem tensions, worrying that they could lead to another spillover in Gaza just weeks after an 11-day war there.

Protests in the capital, particularly in Sheikh Jarrah and at the Temple Mount, precipitated the firing of rockets by Hamas toward Jerusalem on May 10, leading Israel to launch Operation Guardian of the Walls in Gaza hours later.

Young Jewish men dance with Israeli flags near Jerusalem’s Old City on Jerusalem Day, May 10, 2021. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The rocket fire led to the cancellation — midway through — of the annual Jerusalem Day flag parade, which organizers announced was rescheduled for this Thursday.

Gantz on Saturday held security consultations over the planned flag march, at the conclusion of which he issued a statement demanding the right-wing nationalist parade be called off if it “requires extraordinary security measures and endangers public order and diplomatic processes.”

The parade traditionally goes through the Damascus Gate entrance of the Old City and via the Muslim Quarter. That route has long been deemed as provocative by Israeli and Palestinian critics, given that local Arab shop owners are forced to shutter their stores so law enforcement can secure the Palestinian-majority area for the mainly nationalist Jewish revelers.

Ahead of that parade as well, Biden officials urged the Netanyahu government to change the route. While Israel initially refused to do so, police acquiesced hours before the march.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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