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Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar Were Headed for Palestine, Not Israel

Tlaib, who is Palestinian American, was planning to visit her grandma. Israel's Prime Minister now says he will "consider" her request.

by Leila Ettachfini
Aug 15 2019, 8:51pm

US House Representative Rashida Tlaib wearing a traditional Palestinian robe, takes the oath of office on Thomas Jefferson's English translated Quran, with family members present. Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP vis Getty Images. 

The Israeli government has announced that it will ban the only two Muslim women in Congress, representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, from entering the country. But the two weren't headed to Israel; their planned congressional trip was to Palestine.

The decision took place after public encouragement from President Donald Trump. “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit,” tweeted Trump this morning before Israel announced its final decision regarding the congresswomen. “They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!”

Omar and Tlaib have both been critical of Israeli human-rights violations towards Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and have publicly voiced their support for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (or BDS) movement, which encourages boycotting Israeli goods until the country complies with international law and lifts its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The Israeli government cited the congresswomen’s support for BDS along with their itinerary—which included meeting with young people from Gaza about the high unemployment rate they face and an Afro-Palestinian group to discuss their unique challenges—as proof that “the sole purpose of their visit is to harm Israel and increase incitement against it.”

The congresswomen had no plans to visit Israel in their upcoming trip, but instead to witness the effects of the Israeli occupation firsthand in Palestinian cities like Hebron, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and East Jerusalem. They also planned to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque, among the holiest mosques in the world. But because Israel controls all international travel to the territories that it illegally occupies including the entire West Bank, the country has the power to prohibit both Omar and Tlaib from visiting Palestinian territories in addition to Israel.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who is Palestinian American, had also planned to extend her stay in the West Bank after the congressional trip in order to visit with relatives. Trump, who last month told Omar and Tlaib (along with Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) to “go back” to the countries they came from, has effectively made that very difficult for Tlaib.

After uproar following Israel’s announcement this morning, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that the country would potentially allow Tlaib to visit her family if she submits a “humanitarian request,” and only “on the condition that she pledges not to act to promote boycotts against Israel during her visit.”

In response to the news, Tlaib tweeted a photo of her grandmother with a strong statement underlining how personal the attack is for her:

Ilhan Omar responded with an official statement. “Trump’s Muslim ban is what Israel is implementing, this time against two duly elected Members of Congress,” said said. “The irony of the ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East making such a decision is that it is both an insult to democratic values and a chilling response to a visit by government officials of an allied nation.”

While many are upset that the congresswomen will not be able to fulfill their trip, their situation is not a unique one for Palestinians like Tlaib, millions of whom have been unable to return home since the 1948 Palestinian exodus by Zionist forces.

As a response to both Trump and Israel’s decision to bar her entry, many Palestinians are sharing their frustrations and their own difficulties in returning home:

As Palestinian human-rights attorney Noura Erakat put it in a tweet, “The fact that Palestinians can’t welcome @RashidaTlaib & @IlhanMN on their own should indicate clearly to [the] world the lack of parity [between] Israel—an apartheid state—and Palestinians—a stateless people whom they continue to control, cage, and oppress.”

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