Tlaib/Omar Palestine press conference
On August 19, Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) held a press conference in the State Capitol in Saint Paul to a packed room, with an overflow of 100 people, on the human cost of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and travel restrictions.
On August 16 2019, the Israeli government denied the representatives visas to visit Palestine. Their visas previously had been approved, but after a tweet by Donald Trump denouncing Omar and Tlaib’s visit, the approval was revoked. Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett, delegate to House for the Virgin Islands, was to join them on their trip to Palestine. At the press conference, the representatives were joined by four women who have experience with the occupation and the area’s travel restrictions.
As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Omar has a direct say in the over $3 billion worth of aid given to Israel every year. Omar asked if this aid should continue. “This is predicated on them being an ally and important democracy in the Middle East. Denying visits to duly elected officials and denying freedom of movement, expression or self-determination to millions is not consistent with being a good ally of democracy. We must ask Israel to stop building settlements on the West Bank and ensure the rights of Palestinians if we are going to give them aid.”
Omar added, “This is nothing less than an attempt by an ally of the United States to suppress our ability to do our jobs as elected officials,” and, “This decision to deny us entry might be unprecedented when it comes to members of Congress, but this is the Israeli government’s policy when it comes to anyone who holds views that threaten the occupation. The only way to preserve unjust policy is to suppress people’s expression, people’s freedom of association, and freedom of movement. The cruel occupation is real. Barring people from seeing it does not make it go away.”
Representative Tlaib gave a graphic and emotional account of her trip to Palestine as a young girl. The treatment of her mother at checkpoints horrified her, and she was terrified her grandmother would not receive adequate medical care after a car accident. She was very frightened when Israeli soldiers with guns and tanks suddenly appeared in the middle of the night in the village where she was staying. She added, “the outpouring of support from their districts as well as around the country shows how important it is to keep fighting for justice.”
Lana Barkawi, a Palestinian-American and Minneapolis native, has been unable to visit Palestine. She said that the human cost of occupation and travel restrictions for those involved in the BDS - Boycott, Divestment, Sanction - movement is unacceptable.
Amber Harris, a Jewish American woman who is married to a Palestinian, spoke of the harassment she has experienced when trying to go to Palestine. She was almost banned for ten years, for unknown reasons. She believes she was banned because she was involved in the uprising in Ferguson, at the time of murder of Michael Brown by the police. When she was finally let into Palestine, the Israeli government threatened her with surveillance. Harris denounces the Israeli’s government continued denial of entry into Palestine on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity and activism.
Carin Mrotz, of Jewish Community Action, spoke of the divide-and-conquer tactics employed to pit the Jewish community against the Muslim community on the false premise of security. “We must stand together for our own together and for justice everywhere.”
Rosa Drucker, from IfNotNow, a Jewish organization which opposes the Israeli occupation of Palestine, said, “The situation is complex, but not complicated. It is a daily nightmare for those who live it, and a moral disaster for those who support it. We stand with the congresswomen."
2016 Congressional Cuba invitation
The delegation, made up of four U.S. congresspeople, is being headed by U.S. Representative Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California.
The trip was sponsored and paid for by the Washington Office on Latin America.