Rashida Tlaib Wipes Away Tears After Ban From Visiting Ramallah by Israel

Published August 20th, 2019 - 07:45 GMT
U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN)  (AFP)
U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (AFP)
'Sitty' means 'my grandmother' in Arabic.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan wiped away tears as she condemned Israeli Prime MInister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to bar her and Rep. Ilhan Omar from visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories after pressure from President Trump.

The pair appeared together at a brief press conference in Omar's home state of Minnesota after Israel denied entry to the two Muslim representatives over their support for the Palestinian-led boycott movement.

Tlaib recalled a prior visit to her homeland as she spoke to reporters in Minneapolis. 'I watched as my mother had to go through dehumanizing checkpoints. Even though she was a United States citizen and proud American, I was there when my Sitty was in a terrible accident, and my cousins and I cried so that she could have access to the best hospitals, which were in Jerusalem,' she said, in emotional remarks carried  live on cable TV.

'Sitty' means 'my grandmother' in Arabic.

'I remember shaking with fear when checkpoints appeared in the small village ... tanks and guns everywhere. I remember visiting East Jerusalem with my husband, and him escorted off the bus, although he was a United States citizen just so security forces could harass him,' she recounted. 'All I can do, as as a granddaughter of a woman who lives in occupied territory, is by lifting her voice, by exposing the truth the only way I know how ... by humanizing the pain of oppression,' she said.

Tlaib, who planned to meet with public officials as well as her Palestinian grandmother on the trip, twice choked up while blasting Israel's decision. She wrote a letter last week saying she would not promote the boycott movement of Israel on her trip, then decided not to go. 

Later in her remarks, she wiped a tear from her eye as she again spoke of her grandmother, who she said called her her bird, and cast the decision not to go as her own. 

'She said I'm her dream manifested. I'm her free bird,' Tlaib said of her 90-year-old grandmother.

'So why would I come back and be caged and bow down when my election rose her head up high? Gave her dignity for the first time? And so through tears at 3:00 in the morning, we all decided as a family I could not go until I was a free American United States congresswoman coming there,' Tlaib said.

She was there at the podium with Omar, who was wearing a shirt with an American flag in the shape of lips, and whom she called her sister.  Both women, the first Muslim-American women elected to Congress, have faced condemnation from the White House and others for comments deemed anti-Semitic.

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Tlaib came under intense criticism for her 'all about the Benjamins' tweet in reference to the Israel lobby. 

Omar appeared to respond to her friend and colleagues' show of emotion when she said: 'You don't ever allow people to enjoy your tears.' 

Then she said: 'There is no way we are ever going to allow people to tear us down, to see us cry - you know, out of pain,' she explained. 'To make us feel like our certificate is less than theirs.' 

Omar called the move an 'attack by an ally of the United States to suppress our ability to do our jobs as elected officials.' 

At the urging of Trump, Israel denied entry to the two Muslim representatives over their support for the Palestinian-led boycott movement. Tlaib and Omar, who had planned to visit Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied West Bank on a tour organized by a Palestinian group, are outspoken critics of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and support the Palestinian-led international movement boycotting Israel.

'All of these actions do nothing to bring us closer to peace,' she said.  

The two freshman House members said they would discuss 'potential policy responses' to Israel's decision during a news conference on Monday. Omar spokesman Jeremy Slevin declined to discuss the details ahead of the event.

Tlaib and Omar were joined by Minnesota residents who've been directly affected by travel restrictions. They include Lana Barkawi, a Palestinian American who's executive and artistic director of Mizna, a cultural group that sponsors the annual Twin Cities Arab Film Fest. The U.S. government denied visas to several Mideast actors and directors who had been invited to participate last year.

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley kept up the administration's criticism of the two lawmakers Monday.

'Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar have a well-documented history of anti-Semitic comments, anti-Semitic social media posts and anti-Semitic relationships,' he said in a statement. 'Israel has the right to prevent people who want to destroy it from entering the country - and Democrats' pointless Congressional inquiries here in America cannot change the laws Israel has passed to protect itself.'

Before Israel's decision, Trump tweeted it would be a 'show of weakness' to allow the two representatives in. Israel controls entry and exit to the West Bank, which it seized in the 1967 Mideast war along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories the Palestinians want for a future state.

Trump's request to a foreign country to bar the entry of elected U.S. officials - and Israel's decision to do so - were unprecedented and drew widespread criticism, including from many Israelis as well as staunch supporters of Israel in Congress. Critics said Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision was a reckless gamble that risked turning Israel into a partisan issue and threatened to undermine ties between the close allies.

Tlaib and Omar support 'boycott, divestment and sanctions,' or BDS, a Palestinian-led global movement. Supporters say the movement is a nonviolent way of protesting Israel's military rule over the occupied territories, but Israel says it aims to delegitimize the state and eventually wipe it off the map.

Last week, Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said Tlaib had requested and been granted permission to enter the West Bank to see her ageing grandmother. Deri's office released a letter that it said was from Tlaib, which promised to respect travel restrictions during her visit. But after the announcement, Tlaib tweeted she wouldn't allow Israel to use her love for her grandmother to force her to 'bow down to their oppressive & racist policies.'

The two congresswomen are part of the 'squad' of liberal newcomers - all women of color - whom Trump has labeled as the face of the Democratic Party as he runs for reelection. The Republican president subjected them to a series of racist tweets last month in which he called on them to 'go back' to their 'broken' countries. They are U.S. citizens - Tlaib was born in the U.S. and Omar became a citizen after moving to the United States as a refugee from war-torn Somalia.

This article has been adapted from its original source.    

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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