Mohammed El-Kurd, a Palestinian poet and journalist from East Jerusalem, spoke about the intersection of violence and law Wednesday at an event organized by Harvard Law School’s Middle Eastern Law Student Association.
Co-hosted by the Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and HLS Advocates for Human Rights, the talk’s location was moved to First Church in “solidarity with the Harvard Graduate Student Union strike,” which is scheduled to last until Friday.
El-Kurd became the Palestine correspondent for The Nation in September. El-Kurd and his twin sister, Muna, emerged into the spotlight for their grassroots activism and online advocacy for Palestine. The siblings were named two of TIME Magazine’s most influential people of 2021.
Mohammed El-Kurd — whose debut poetry collection, RIFQA, was published earlier this month — argued Wednesday that rather than serve as an overly intellectual, inaccessible form of art, poetry could be employed as a “didactic tool.” It can highlight the lives of ordinary people and share candid thoughts about everyday struggles and sufferings, he said.
El-Kurd also described poetry as a way to demystify the law. He cited one of his favorite poets as a writer who “translated” difficult legal codes through his own verse for “people who didn’t understand legal jargon.”
Censorship had always been a “part of [his] reality,” El-Kurd said. His mother, who was one of his chief creative inspirations, also experienced the regular censorship of her poetry.
“She adopted this game with my father where she would read him the poems, and they would bet on which lines would be censored,” he added.
Nicole L. Khamis, co-president of the Harvard Middle Eastern Law Student Association who led coordination of Wednesday’s event, said the idea for the event emerged this summer amid an escalation in violence between Palestine and Israel.
“This was at the height of the war, during which Gaza was being bombed — Gaza is one of the most populous places on Earth,” she said. “I engaged with the Law School administration on ways that we could start to allow another narrative about Palestine into the Law School.”
Khamis said she was appreciative of El-Kurd’s ability to remain humble in the spotlight while using his public platform to speak openly about critical issues and continue advocating for ordinary Palestinians.
“The most rewarding part of this is seeing the crowd and seeing how excited people are to meet Mohammed, and also how humble Mohammad is about everything,” Khamis said. “He really is somebody who isn’t changed by the fame that he’s been given and uses it.”
She said she hopes events centering Palestinian voices will continue to happen throughout the year.
“This is going to be the beginning of many events that we hope to have in the Law School,” she said. “We hope that this is a conversation that really starts allowing people to shift the narrative and allow people to see the other side.”
As somebody who identifies as Palestinian, Khamis said she believes it is her responsibility to spread awareness about the politics of the region, particularly in American institutions such as Harvard Law School.
“There’s such a lack of Palestinians in general at a higher level,” she said. “As someone who is Palestinian, I feel like it’s my obligation to continually challenge the narrative. Doing that at Harvard is a huge privilege, and we’re going to keep on doing it.”
El-Kurd argued that international observers frequently overlook the plight of ordinary Palestinians despite photographic and testimonial evidence of displacement and violence inflicted on ordinary individuals.
He said Palestinian identity does not solely depend on geography or national borders, referring to the territorial conflicts between Palestine and Israel.
“We are all Palestinians, no matter our legal status,” El-Kurd said. “This geography is fabricated, and they tell us that we’re not allowed to go here, we’re not allowed to go there — this is just cement. These colonial borders do not extend to within our minds.”
El-Kurd said he would continue to remain optimistic about the future and exercise his voice to effect change.
“It’s my obligation to feel hopeful,” he said. “I remind myself that I need to be hopeful in order to survive.”
—Staff writer Emmy M. Cho can be reached at email@example.com.