Banning Rashida and Ilhan is Straight Out of the Racist Playbook

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Today, Israeli officials, at the urging of President Trump, have indicated that Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar will be denied entry into Israel to participate in a U.S. Congressional visit to the occupied West Bank later this week . We are angry, but sadly not surprised. The story is a familiar one for many Palestinians, including myself. 

When I traveled to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv in May 2012, I presented my U.S. passport to Israeli authorities at the airport and was asked the name of my father and grandfather. My answers did not please the Israeli woman peering at me from behind thick glass. The names were too Arab sounding. I was told to wait.

I was questioned at least five times. During my interrogation, I was asked to write down the names of all my relatives and any Palestinians I knew. Then the interrogator turned the computer around and told me to log in to my email account. I was threatened that if I didn’t comply, my employer would be contacted and they would fire me. I was told that Israel and the United States had a close relationship and that I might not be allowed to go back home.

In fact, when I contacted the U.S. Embassy to report my detention and ask for assistance, the Embassy employee told me, “If you are not Jewish, there is nothing we can do to help you.” After eight hours, I was declared a security threat, driven to a prison and kept in a cell overnight. The next day I was sent back to the United States.

Today’s news demonstrates that my experience is not unique. No Palestinian can escape Israel’s racism, not even an elected U.S. Member of Congress. Likewise, anyone who stands up for Palestinian rights, like Rep. Omar, is targeted by Israel and the United States. 

Israel’s policies of expulsion have been the Palestinian experience for over 70 years.In 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were forced out or fled from Palestine and were never allowed to return to their homes. Millions of Palestinians remain refugees and seek to return to their homeland. 

Trump’s policies and support have emboldened Netanyahu and the Israeli right to think they can do whatever they want to Palestinians. Trump’s move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and his approval of Israeli annexation of occupied lands run parallel to his own racist policies at home, like the Muslim travel ban, the border wall and separation of families seeking asylum. This alliance has made barefaced the racism that guides both leaders, and that is integral to the founding of Israel and the United States, not just to the current leadership in both countries.

As we demand that Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar be allowed into Israel to do their jobs as elected officials and to see for themselves how Israel is using U.S. funding to violate Palestinian rights, we encourage supporters to ground this demand in the central issue of the right of return for all Palestinian refugees and those in the diaspora.Palestinians should be allowed to return to live in our homeland, work in Palestinian institutions and visit our loved ones.

Our friends at the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights have launched a campaign targeting Congress to demand that Israel allow Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar in AND hold Israel accountable for the racist and exclusionary policies that target Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims. You can sign on here. 

In solidarity,
Sandra Tamari, Executive Director