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Lex Fridman Podcast

#391 – Mohammed El-Kurd: Palestine

Mon Jul 24 2023
PalestineIsraelForced ExpulsionDiscriminationEvictionsZionismViolenceResistancePeaceful CoexistenceJusticeLegal StatusDisplacementArmed ResistancePolitical PowerPalestinian AuthorityCultural Resistance


This episode explores the Palestinian cause through the perspective of Muhammad Al-Kurd, a poet, writer, journalist, and advocate. The conversation covers topics such as forced expulsions in Sheikh Jarrah, discrimination in East Jerusalem, evictions in the occupied West Bank, the history of Zionism, misconceptions and double standards, violence and resistance, peaceful coexistence and justice, legal status and displacement, armed resistance and political power, the Palestinian Authority, and the role of Palestinian writers in cultural resistance.


Palestinian homes face eviction orders due to asymmetry of power and colonialism

Evictions in East Jerusalem are politically and religiously motivated rather than purely legal. Palestinians face discrimination in building permit applications.

Expulsions and discrimination continue in the occupied West Bank

Palestinians are expelled from their homes due to Israeli government classifications. Discrimination is evident in the courts and over 60 laws.

The history of Zionism reveals different perspectives on Palestinians

Zionist leaders had varying views on Palestinians, with some advocating for fighting them. Israel's historical right to the land is a red herring.

Violence is not an effective method of protest and resistance

Nonviolent resistance has not been effective for Palestinians. Justice can be achieved through recognition, return, and redistribution.

Palestinian writers play a crucial role in cultural resistance

Writing in English allows Palestinians to bridge the gap between different narratives. Literature and changing public opinion are important for affecting change.


  1. Muhammad Al-Kurd and the Palestinian Cause
  2. Sheikh Jarrah and Forced Expulsion
  3. Evictions and Discrimination in East Jerusalem
  4. Expulsions in the Occupied West Bank
  5. The Belfer Declaration and Zionism
  6. Misconceptions and Double Standards
  7. Violence, Resistance, and Perception
  8. Peaceful Coexistence and Justice
  9. Legal Status and Displacement
  10. Armed Resistance and Political Power
  11. Palestinian Authority and Hope for Change
  12. Palestinian Writers and Cultural Resistance
  13. Palestinian Writers and Cultural Resistance (Continued)
  14. Palestinian Writers and Cultural Resistance (Continued)

Muhammad Al-Kurd and the Palestinian Cause

00:00 - 08:11

  • Muhammad Al-Kurd is a Palestinian poet, writer, journalist, and advocate for the Palestinian cause.
  • He offers a different perspective on Israel and Palestine compared to previous guests Benjamin Netanyahu and Yaval Noah Harah.
  • The host aims to have challenging conversations with empathy and humility.
  • The host values vulnerability, listening, empathy, and understanding different perspectives.

Sheikh Jarrah and Forced Expulsion

07:41 - 15:51

  • The guest, Muhammad el kurd, talks about Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem threatened by colonialism and forced expulsion.
  • El Kurd explains that his family was expelled from their homes in Nakabe in 1948 and ended up in Zorrah as refugees.
  • He describes how Israeli courts favor settlers' claims over Palestinian families' rights to their homes.
  • El Kurd recounts the violent expulsions experienced by his neighbors and his own family's struggle to keep their home.
  • The settlers justify their actions based on divine decree and the idea of the promised land.

Evictions and Discrimination in East Jerusalem

15:24 - 23:27

  • Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem are being subjected to eviction orders, which are not just real estate disputes but a result of asymmetry of power and colonialism.
  • A campaign was launched to demystify the situation and raise awareness internationally.
  • Due to immense international pressure, the Israeli Supreme Court canceled all eviction orders in Jorzara until further notice.
  • The evictions are politically and religiously based rather than purely legal.
  • Jerusalem is under occupation according to international law, and Israeli presence there is illegitimate.
  • Palestinians in Jerusalem are residents without citizenship, despite generations of living there.
  • Building permit applications submitted by Palestinians in East Jerusalem are overwhelmingly rejected by Israeli authorities.
  • A councilman responsible for accepting or rejecting building permits is an activist in the settler movement and has made inflammatory statements calling for another Nakba (catastrophe).
  • Similar threats of expulsion exist in other neighborhoods like Silwan through home demolitions.

Expulsions in the Occupied West Bank

22:58 - 31:03

  • Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank were expelled from their homes due to the classification of lands as firing zones by the Israeli government.
  • The judge who rules on these evictions is a settler living illegally in an illegal settlement.
  • There is no representation for Palestinians in the courts, and there are over 60 laws that discriminate against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.
  • Legality does not equate to morality, and history has shown that laws can facilitate atrocities.
  • The policies enacted by Israel provide material proof of discrimination and racism.
  • The Nakba, or catastrophe, began before and continued after 1948, with paramilitaries committing massacres and forcing Palestinians to flee their homes.
  • The ongoing Nakba is seen in current events such as home demolitions and expulsions.
  • Laws have replaced violence as a means of displacing Palestinians from their homes.

The Belfer Declaration and Zionism

30:53 - 39:10

  • The Belfer Declaration was a promise made by the British to the Zionist movement in 1970, committing to the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.
  • Different schools of thought in Zionism had varying views on Palestinians, with some erasing their existence and others advocating for fighting them.
  • The Zionist movement sought support from various imperialist powers, including the Ottoman Empire, Germany, and eventually the United Kingdom.
  • Jabotinsky, a celebrated figure in Israeli society, was explicitly racist and called for genocide against Palestinians.
  • Israel's historical right to the land is a red herring as no one has the right to slaughter people and remove them from their homes.
  • The Israeli regime exhibits exceptionalism by claiming rights to defend itself and occupy Palestinian land.
  • Religious texts like the Torah or Quran are often cited but do not justify violence and displacement of people.
  • Israel's treatment of Palestinians includes keeping them in cages with limited freedom of movement in the West Bank and blockading Gaza.
  • Hate is not relevant; what matters are policies, laws, actions, and human rights violations on the ground.
  • Palestinians who revolt do so because they cannot breathe or live under excruciating circumstances.
  • Palestinians are generally hospitable despite their oppression.
  • Anger towards oppressors is natural and logical; it would be ridiculous to expect otherwise.
  • The campaign to defend Palestinian rights has been successful due to its honesty about what is happening on the ground rather than seeking approval from lawmakers or diplomats.

Misconceptions and Double Standards

38:41 - 46:45

  • Sending Palestinian kids to speak to American lawmakers is due to racism and hatred towards Palestinian adults.
  • The new generation of Palestinians is rebelling against loaded language that mischaracterizes and de-legitimizes them.
  • The real anger lies in the actions of bulldozers and soldiers who dehumanize Palestinians.
  • The tension in Palestine is not solely religious, as many Zionist leaders were atheists or secular.
  • Opposing Zionism does not equate to anti-Semitism; it is a political movement, not a religion.
  • Israeli leaders have no problem aligning with anti-Semites when it serves their interests.
  • Accusations of anti-Semitism are used to silence political opposition for the liberation of Palestine.

Violence, Resistance, and Perception

46:16 - 54:38

  • Ongoing colonialism is resulting in daily killings
  • ADL, the Anti-Defamation League, has a history of engaging in surveillance and advising police departments to spy on black organizers
  • Anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish sentiments exist in the United States and throughout history
  • Comparisons between Israel and Hitler were made due to Israeli actions in Palestine
  • Palestinians are not allowed expression or resistance, while other groups are praised for defending their homes
  • The definition of terrorism depends on who has power and writes the laws

Peaceful Coexistence and Justice

54:19 - 1:02:02

  • Violence is not an effective method of protest and resistance, considering the power imbalance between sides.
  • Nonviolent resistance has not been effective for the Palestinian people.
  • Top obstacles to peaceful coexistence include the occupation, strict political policies, siege, and asymmetry of the judiciary.
  • Justice can be achieved through recognition, return, and redistribution.
  • Palestinian refugees need recognition, return to their homes, and redistribution of land.
  • The wall in Palestine separates families and causes devastation to livelihoods.
  • Israel has divided Palestinians into different legal classifications based on residency or citizenship.

Legal Status and Displacement

1:01:35 - 1:09:38

  • Different legal statuses in Palestine create challenges and obstacles for different groups of people.
  • Palestinian people have maintained their national identity despite colonial barriers.
  • The West Bank is a large region with various cities like Ramallah, Janine, Bethlehem, Abran, Jericho, and Nablus.
  • Haifa fell during the Zionist invasion, leading to the creation of multiple refugee camps.
  • Israeli army invaded Janine recently, resulting in deaths and destruction of infrastructure.
  • Israeli soldiers forced hundreds of Palestinians to flee their homes in Janine at gunpoint.
  • Many Palestinians have been displaced multiple times due to ongoing expulsions and Nakba events.
  • The Israeli military incursion in Janine was described as collective punishment by some experts.
  • Janine is under illegal occupation by the Israeli forces.

Armed Resistance and Political Power

1:09:10 - 1:17:14

  • Palestinians are arming themselves in response to the violence and occupation they face.
  • The Israeli military's attempts to quell resistance through bloodshed and violence only strengthen Palestinians' determination to defend themselves.
  • The glorification of violence is questionable, and there should be a balance between not glorifying or normalizing it.
  • There is a double standard when it comes to how violence is perceived, with Palestinian violence being condemned while Israeli violence is often overlooked or justified.
  • Hamas firing rockets into Israel is a retaliation for the siege and the lack of basic rights Palestinians have due to living conditions in Gaza.
  • Violence begets violence, but Palestinians are not inherently violent people. Islamophobia and xenophobia contribute to negative portrayals of Palestinians as terrorists.
  • Palestinian people deserve to be seen as fully human, with a range of emotions and experiences, including rage, happiness, celebration, etc.
  • The world's exceptionalism towards Palestine's resistance while accepting other instances of violence reveals a problem with who does the violence rather than an aversion to violence itself.

Palestinian Authority and Hope for Change

1:16:50 - 1:25:09

  • The Palestinian Authority is seen as a failure and a subcontractor of the Israeli regime through their security coordination.
  • People often liken great evils to other great evils, such as comparing the Palestinian Authority to Zionism.
  • There is a concern that those in power, including Hamas and the PLO, are not incentivized towards peace and may perpetuate violence to maintain power.
  • Hamas was democratically elected in 2006, but neither Hamas nor the PLO have real power in perpetuating violence compared to Israel.
  • The speaker envisions a world beyond nation states and borders, without militaries or prisons.
  • While violence and hunger for power are intrinsic to human beings, there is hope for a world without war.
  • A two-state solution is not feasible due to settlements all over the West Bank. The speaker believes in one state where refugees can return, land can be given back, wealth can be redistributed, and recognition of the Nakba can occur.

Palestinian Writers and Cultural Resistance

1:32:46 - 1:40:30

  • The speaker believes that writing in English allows them to bridge the gap between what is said about Palestinians in Arabic and what is said about them by anti-Palestinian racists and pro-Palestine advocates.
  • They believe that literature and changing the public opinion are important for affecting policy and material change.
  • The speaker feels a responsibility to define themselves and represent themselves, as they believe that others' definitions of Palestinians have not been kind or generous.
  • They believe in the United States as a front for change, as there is more leverage here than back home.
  • Many Palestinians in the diaspora could benefit from political education in English.
  • The speaker follows US politics due to its influence but does not have a preference for presidential candidates.
  • They wrote a book of poetry called Rifka, which explores displacement beyond what is typically seen in English poetry.
  • Poetry was an important part of their upbringing as a Palestinian, providing a space to express ideas without repercussions.
  • The role of poetry is to convey complex laws and their impact on everyday Palestinians, such as landowners affected by Israeli property laws.

Palestinian Writers and Cultural Resistance (Continued)

2:03:13 - 2:11:12

  • The role of poetry is to translate complicated laws and their effects on everyday Palestinians and their lands.
  • Poetry celebrates the power of words, which can be transferred to any medium that values words.
  • The author is working on a memoir titled 'A Million States and One' that documents the expulsions in their neighborhood and explores other threatened communities.
  • The emphasis of the book is on dignity and rejecting the idea of being polite in suffering.
  • 'The most tragic disasters are those that cause laughter' can be interpreted as a commentary on our natural reactions to tragedies.
  • The author shares a funny memory despite the pain and trauma associated with it, highlighting the absurdity of certain situations.
  • Coping mechanisms like humor are used to deal with everyday reality.
  • The public framing of Palestinians often portrays them as powerless victims, but they still find joy in small things like supermarkets or balconies.
  • The author's writing process involves obsessing over sentences and editing until perfection, but news events constantly disrupt their writing.
  • Stepping away from news and isolation are important for Palestinian writers to avoid constantly reacting to crimes or bombings.

Palestinian Writers and Cultural Resistance (Continued)

2:18:36 - 2:22:56

  • Palestinian writers often feel limited to writing about crimes and bombings
  • Finding a timeless message beyond the news is a struggle
  • In Arabic, there is more freedom to philosophize and complicate topics
  • English writing is more focused on journalism and activism for Palestinians
  • US media does a poor job of covering Israel and Palestine, omitting key facts
  • Negative associations with Hamas in reporting remove sympathy for victims
  • Journalists face censorship and battles with editors when discussing Palestine
  • Living conditions lead to high rates of depression among Palestinians
  • Surrounded by good people, the speaker feels obligated to speak out about Palestine
  • History shows that injustices eventually come to an end, giving hope for Palestine