‘Tlaib and Omar gave us hope’: Decision to bar entry to congresswomen sparks anger and disappointment amongst Palestinians
|Yumna Patel – August 15, 2019|
Palestinians are joining the chorus of international condemnation facing Israel for barring entry to US Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar ahead of their planned delegation to the occupied Palestinian territory.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision came just days before Tlaib, Omar, and other democrats were set to travel to the West Bank. It remained unclear if the rest of the delegation would continue on the trip without Tlaib and Omar.
The announcement ignited reactions of frustration and disappointment from Palestinians, who were hoping the unprecedented delegation would not only help strengthen strained US-Palestinian relations, but serve as a means for building more solidarity with the Palestinian cause at the highest levels of government.
“We are extremely disappointed and saddened that Rashida and her colleagues won’t be coming to visit us in Palestine,” Muhammad Tlaib, 44, a cousin of Congresswoman Tlaib and former mayor of her hometown in the West Bank, Beit Ur al-Fauqa, told Mondoweiss.
Muhammad Tlaib was one of dozens of people from the congresswoman’s hometown who were anxiously awaiting her arrival with the delegation. He told Mondoweiss that the people of the village were “preparing a huge festival” to welcome Tlaib, Omar, and their colleagues to Palestine.
“Since we heard she wasn’t allowed to come, everyone in the village is disappointed,” he told Mondoweiss.
“We wanted to show Rashida how proud we are of her and how much we appreciate her dedication to fighting Trump’s racism against the Palestinian people, and her efforts to fight against the occupation.”
Al-Shabaka Policy Member Fadi Quran echoed similar sentiments to Mondoweiss, saying there was a definite air of sadness in Palestine as the news spread.
“People were excited to meet with Tlaib and Omar, because they [Palestinians] saw the congresswomen as a sign of hope in an extremely darkening political landscape,” Quran said.
Despite the sadness felt by many, Quran said, activists and community leaders in Palestine were “largely expecting this to happen.”
“I was not surprised at all,” Quran said. “it was expected that Israel would not want members of congress to come and witness system of apartheid and daily violations committed against the Palestinian people, and with Trump putting extra pressure, we saw it coming.”
Senior PLO official Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, who was expected to meet with the delegation, condemned the move as “an outrageous act of hostility against the American people and their representatives…that defies all diplomatic norms.”
Ashrawi said in a statement that the decision was “an assault on the Palestinian people’s right to engage with the rest of the world,” highlighting the fact that as the occupying power of Palestine, Israel “has no right” to prevent the congresswomen from “seeing firsthand” the reality of the occupation.
“This trip was their right and duty as members of Congress, who oversee US policies and actions that affect Palestine, Israel, and countries worldwide,” Ashrawi said.
She went on to call out the double standard applied to US politicians who voice their support for Palestinian rights versus those who support Israel, saying “while usurping the Palestinian people’s right to welcome visitors in their homeland, Israel is granting AIPAC the right to fund ideologically-driven and fundamentally biased visits of nearly 80 members of Congress to the region during this week.”
One of the local sponsors for the trip, Palestinian NGO MIFTAH, also released a statement in the same vein, saying they had “worked hard” to organize the trip “in order to facilitate their [congresswomen’s] engagement with Palestinian civil society and to provide them with an opportunity to see the reality of occupation for themselves.”
“Like all prolific human rights abusers, Israel wants to impose a blackout on the reality in occupied Palestine and prevent Congresswomen Tlaib, Omar from having direct contact with the Palestinian people, who are subject to Israel’s cruel regime of colonization, oppression, and land grab,” MIFTAH said.
Social media storm
As news broke of the ban on Tlaib and Omar, Palestinian activists took to social media to voice their support for the congresswomen, using the hashtag “#LetThemIn”.
Many expressed anger over the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to ban the congresswoman was directly influenced by called from US President Donald Trump, who tweeted out that Tlaib and Omar “hate Israel & all Jewish people.”
“Regardless of what side of the political aisle you are on, a president should not be engaging in pettiness against his political rivals,” Palestinian-American activist and Women’s March co-chairwoman Linda Sarsour tweeted.
“Rashida & Ilhan are democratically elected representatives in the US and should be treated with respect regardless of whether you agree w/ them.”
Palestinian writer and activist Remi Kanazi tweeted that “Israel is not a democracy. Israel never was a democracy. Israel has always been an apartheid state. Israel is maintained through racist laws, exclusion, ethnic cleansing, and military occupation.”
He went on to call on his followers to sign a petition demanding the congresswomen be allowed into Palestine in order to “hold Israel accountable for the racist and exclusionary policies that target Palestinians, Arabs, and/or Muslims.”
Human rights lawyer and Palestinian advocate Noura Erekat tweeted: “The fact that #Palestinians can’t welcome @RashidaTlaib & @IlhanMN on their own should indicate clearly to world the lack of parity bw Israel – an apartheid state- & Palestinians – a stateless people whom they continue to control,cage, & oppress. We are alive bc of our resistance.”
‘This is nothing new’
In their criticisms of the decision to ban Omar and Tlaib, many Palestinians were quick to point out that denying Palestinians and their supporters entry to Palestine is a tried and true policy of the Israeli government.
Palestinian novelist and co-founder of the Electronic Intifada Ali Abunimah pointed towards Israel’s longstanding policy of denying Palestinians entry to their homeland, tweeting “this how @EUinIsrael’s beloved apartheid regime treats Palestinians no matter who they are. Basic human rights like seeing family are subject to arbitrary favors from the brutal and cruel occupier.”
Abunimah reposted a tweet pointing out the fact that Tlaib was being banned from her homeland, which included visiting family for weddings and funerals, saying she was one of millions of Palestinians to experience such discrimination.
The US Campaign for Palestinian Rights released a statement on the ban, saying it was unsurprising and “par for the course with Israel’s racist and exclusionary policies.”
“Not only has Israel been banning entry to Palestinians since first expelling them and creating the world’s most protracted refugee crisis in 1948, but discrimination against Palestinian, Arab, and/or Muslim travelers to Palestine/Israel is well-documented,” the statement said.
“Rashida Tlaib would be number six million and one of the Palestinians who have been banned from returning to their homeland,” Quran told Mondoweiss.
Pointing to the discriminatory measures regularly faced by Arabs and Muslims when entering Israel and Palestine at the hands of Israeli officials, Quran noted that Palestinian Americans “do not get treated the same way as an average American citizen.”
“Their passports are stamped with their Palestinian IDs, they are interrogated for hours, and often times if they refuse to hand over phones or laptops they could be sent back,” he told Mondoweiss.
“In Palestine there is a systematic effort to empty this land, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, of all Palestinians and put them in smaller bantustans,” he continued. “This policy has been happening for over eight decades now.”
BDS and the ‘silver lining’
While the overwhelming response to Netanyahu’s decision was one of outrage and condemnation, some critics took the chance to highlight what they say could be a “silver lining”: a growing support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
“Given that the American and Israeli position is that they are banning Tlaib and Omar and those who support BDS, the counter-effect is that it has boosted support for the BDS movement, and people have doubled down,” Quran told Mondoweiss.
“It is pretty clear that the fact that Israel and Trump are so afraid and adamantly against BDS are a sign of how effective this strategy is,” he said. “If there is a silver lining to all of this, a growing support for BDS would be it.”
“This is another reason we need BDS and bold action to challenge Israeli apartheid and occupation. There is no other way,” Remi Kenazi tweeted.
The BDS movement released a statement condemning “the far-right Israeli government’s McCarthyite decision,” and used the opportunity to renew calls for ending US military aid to Israel.
“As the BDS movement continues to grow worldwide, Israeli is desperately intensifying its McCarthyite war on BDS and people of conscience who stand in solidarity with our pursuit of freedom, justice and equality,” the statement said.