Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) called a news conference in St. Paul today – four days after Prime Minister Netanyahu blocked the congresswomen from entering Israel. Omar also invited four diverse women to share their experiences and views.
Omar began by sharing the itinerary of her planned trip which can also be found on her Twitter. She said she would have met with Jewish and Arab members of the Knesset; attended a United Nations briefing; held a video conference with youth from Gaza; and visited Hebron with Break the Silence, an Israeli veteran group dedicated to raising awareness about their experiences with the Palestinian occupation.
Omar said, “Denying visits to duly elected members of Congress is not consistent with being an ally,” and that the treatment of Palestinians is not consistent with being a democracy.
Omar introduced Tlaib as her sister, and Tlaib spoke about her own experience as a Palestinian-American.
Tlaib said she visited her family in Palestine as a young girl and watched her mother go through dehumanizing Israeli checkpoints even though she was a proud United States citizen.
She shared other such instances and said, “All I can do as [as the granddaughter of a Palestinian] is help humanize her and the Palestinians’ plight.”
Omar noted that human rights activists Katherine Frank and Vince Warren were also denied entrance to Israel, and Tlaib said, “History does have a habit of repeating itself. [Former U.S. politician] Charles C. Diggs was denied entry into apartheid South Africa” in 1975.
Lana Barkawi, a Palestinian-American, spoke next. She said she has never been able to visit Palestine. She nearly had the opportunity to go in college, but her family didn’t want to go through the fear and indignity.
“Beyond concerns for safety, [my father] couldn’t put himself into a position where an Israeli soldier was in control of his entry,” said Barkawi. “It’s a human rights issue, it’s an issue of justice.”
Amber Harris, a Jewish woman married to a Palestinian man and raising a Jewish-Palestinian child, spoke of the turmoil the Israeli government has put her through.
At different points, her husband has been denied access to the U.S., and she’s been denied access to Israel. Harris said she was interrogated for 10 hours and humiliated. Another time she was interrogated for six hours as her belongings were confiscated and she had to pay money she had to borrow.
Harris said, “I want to make it clear that my story isn’t unique. Mine had a happy ending, but many don’t.”
Carin Mrotz, the director of Jewish Community Action, then spoke of solidarity.
“We recognize that our identities have been weaponized. We recognize and resist the way our communities have been flattened and erased by our president . . . We recognize that the same has been done to our Muslim neighbors,” said Mrotz. “We have been pitted against each other and dehumanized.”
Finally Rosa Druker of If Not Now spoke as one of Omar’s constituents and a young Jew. She said her Jewish values call her to defend the millions of Palestinians under occupation.
“When the Israeli government denies democratically elected officials, they show us that they have something to hide,” said Druker. “I reject the narrative that anti-occupation is anti-Jew.”
Druker said the real threat to our communities is white nationalism.
Omar closed by saying, “I represent Minneapolis, the heart of every progressive movement. It is such an honor to be in this particular fight we are waging.”
“We’ve heard from almost every single Jewish organization in my district. Many Jewish leaders in my district have been raising their voices,” she said. “Everyone agrees that we should have access to see it for ourselves. Many of my colleagues and constituents have urged me to see for myself and reserve judgement until then,” but that opportunity is gone.
Omar said, “I would encourage my colleagues to visit, meet with the people we were going to meet with, see what we were going to see, hear the stories we were going to hear. I call on all of you to go.”
“The occupation is real: barring members of Congress does not make it go away. We must end it together,” said Omar.