Why Israel is so desperate to silence #SaveSheikhJarrah

The grassroots campaign united Palestinians in resistance and turned the world’s attention to Israel’s occupation.

Activists lift banners and placards during a demonstration against Israeli settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian Territories, in Jerusalem's Palestinian Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, on March 19, 2021 [Ahmad Gharabli/AFP]

Over the last month and a half, we have been witnessing what many are calling a new Palestinian uprising. It is being dubbed by some as the “Intifada of Unity” because it brought Palestinians all across colonised Palestine together in resistance. Indeed, they are resisting and demonstrating against settler colonialism and its manifestations in unison across various geographies, from Jerusalem to Gaza.

The catalyst for this new uprising was the Israeli regime’s threat to expel Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah – the now famous Palestinian neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem.

Palestinians living in Sheikh Jarrah, like countless other Palestinian communities, have been facing the threat of expulsion for decades. They have been engaged in a long legal battle with the Israeli regime to hold on to their homes and to stop, or at least slow down, the Israeli attempts to ethnically cleanse and completely Judaise Jerusalem.

In late April 2021, the Jerusalem District Court rejected the appeals against what Israeli courts refer to as the “eviction” of eight households, and ordered that these families vacate their homes by May 2, 2021.

Refusing this order, the families engaged in a vibrant grassroots campaign to “Save Sheikh Jarrah” from colonial ethnic cleansing. The campaign was, and continues to be spearheaded by members of the community, most notably by 23-year-old twins, Mohammed and Muna al-Kurd.

The siblings have been sharing the on-the-ground reality in Sheikh Jarrah and calling all Palestinians to action through their social media accounts which have hundreds of thousands of followers. Their efforts have since attracted not only local but international attention. The campaign has managed to unite Palestinians across colonised Palestine by encapsulating what is quintessentially the Palestinian experience: forced displacement.

From the outset, however, it has faced a huge crackdown. Social media users sharing content from and about Sheikh Jarrah reported that their accounts have been censored, limited or shut down.

Mohammed al-Kurd himself said he received a warning from Instagram that his posts about Sheikh Jarrah and the Israeli regime’s brutality have been breaching “community guidelines” and his entire account may eventually be deleted.

Of course, none of this was unexpected. Social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and YouTube have long been working with the Israeli regime and its many allies to censor Palestinian speech. Palestinian activists know too well that while these platforms have been very effective in helping them reach a global audience, they have also been used to censor and surveil. Over the last decade, many Palestinians have been arrested by the Israeli regime for posting about their struggle and calling people to action on social media.

The efforts to censor the Save Sheikh Jarrah campaign and silence those reporting on the injustices faced by the community have not been limited to social media, either. The journalists on the ground have also been intimidated and harassed by Israeli regime forces. Most recently, Al Jazeera Arabic journalist Givara Budeiri has been violently arrested while she attempted to report from the neighbourhood.

Of course, this is also not new – the Israeli regime has been systematically targeting both foreign and local journalists covering Palestine for decades. Israeli security forces raided several media offices in Palestine over the years and, most recently, they bombed the high-rise building that was home to both Al Jazeera and Associated Press offices in Gaza.

While Israel has always worked to silence Palestinians, its crackdown on the Save Sheikh Jarrah campaign and journalists covering it has been especially strong and violent. Israeli forces routinely use brute force to break down protests and regularly spray the Palestinian residents of the neighbourhood with skunk water as a form of collective punishment. They have also since surrounded the neighbourhood with checkpoints. Only Palestinians who are registered residents of Sheikh Jarrah are allowed in, but armed Israeli settlers can walk through the neighbourhood without any hindrance at all times. This is why many are now describing the situation in Sheikh Jarrah as a siege.

It is clear that the targeting of the Sheikh Jarrah campaign is not only because it has been successful in showing the world the brutality and injustice of the Israeli regime, but also because it has managed to unite Palestinians.

The Israeli regime’s brutality, however, has failed to stop the campaign or contain its reach. Activists in Sheikh Jarrah are still mobilising online and on the ground. They not only succeeded in uniting Palestinians across colonised Palestine in a shared struggle but also turned the world’s attention to Israeli ethnic cleansing. And for that, Sheikh Jarrah will continue to be a thorn in the Israeli regime’s side.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.