Americans — and especially American politicians — need to wake up to the fact that Israel is not a democracy and its treatment of Tlaib and Omar is just another example of why.
Content Warning: Mentions of state-sanctioned violence, racism, death/ethnic cleansing.
By Reina Sultan
Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would bar Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN)—the only two Muslim women in Congress—from entering Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. As someone who was raised to be extremely familiar with Israeli human rights abuses, the decision to ban Reps. Tlaib and Omar was absolutely unsurprising to me. The Israeli government keeps Palestinians from entering their homeland daily—and for far less than being outspoken against the regime while serving in the United States Congress.
The millions of descendants of the 720,000 Palestinian refugees who were forced out of their homes during Al Nakba are still banned from re-entering, forced to live in permanent refugee camps around the Middle East or trapped in Gaza’s open-air prison. For 16 months, protestors in Gaza have been holding weekly Great March of Return demonstrations, demanding Palestinian right-of-return and an end to the 12-year blockade of Gaza. Israeli forces have killed at least 296 Palestinians in Gaza since the beginning of the Great March of Return protests.
The cruelty of the IDF responding to the Gazan uprising knows no bounds. In June 2018, they killed Razan Al- Najar, a 21-year-old nurse volunteering as a medic during the protest. She was wearing her medical vest when she was shot by an Israeli sniper. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) thinks this recent decision to ban Tlaib and Omar is “beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel?” Please. Silencing dissidents, jailing opponents, and violently squashing rebellion are integral parts of the so-called only democracy in the Middle East. The country of Israel literally started with ethnic cleansing.
It is time Americans realize that this type of treatment is typical of a country hellbent on maintaining its ethnic majority by oppressing the Palestinians native to the land. Even accessing medical care is sometimes impossible for Palestinians stuck in Gaza. Not only are medical professionals completely overwhelmed by the amount of injured Palestinians flooding the hospitals, but Gaza only receives between two and four hours of electricity a day. The fact that tens of thousands need care and hospitals cannot function normally is a disaster — one that Israel is wholly responsible for. Beyond that, Gazans must apply for permits to be treated in the West Bank, where medical facilities are more equipped to deal with complicated medical procedures.
International law dictates that the right to health is a human right, meant to be equally accessible to all residents of a country. This doesn’t stop the Israeli government from arbitrarily denying permits to even those who meet the requirements of medical entry. Last year, Israel denied two protesters who had been shot by Israeli snipers entry into the West Bank for treatment based on their participation in the Great March of Return demonstrations. They each had to have a leg amputated because the Israeli government decided to punish them for self-determination in the face of oppression. These types of human rights abuses happen daily and very often in retaliation to perceived dissidence. Gravely ill Palestinians are often denied medical care in the West Bank if they are related to someone living there ‘illegally.’ Imagine denying people medical entry into their own country while labeling their relatives who are native to the land ‘illegals.’
All the while, the United States funnels billions into Israel indiscriminately because the likes of Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) don’t “like the way [Reps. Omar and Tlaib] often talk about Israel.” He and other Democratic politicians would prefer that these issues are completely repressed — just like the Israeli government would like. It’s not just those living within Israel who the government seeks to silence. In early 2018, Israel published a blacklist with 20 organizations whose members would be barred from entering Israel because of their support of BDS. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has three demands for Israel: end its occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights; grant Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel full equality under the law; and establish a right-of-return policy for Palestinian refugees. The movement is peaceful, but even Jewish proponents of the movement can be denied entry into the state of Israel. Despite having a policy through which all Jewish people have a right to return to Israel, the government barred BDS- supporting Rabbi Alissa Wise from entering in 2017. Israel doesn’t want any dissent, from any person.
That’s why the only shocking part of this story is the fact that two Muslim-American politicians of color are holding the apartheid state of Israel accountable — and getting noticed for it. However, any response that accuses Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib of anti-Semitism, affirms the dignity of the Israeli state, and/or lightly admonishes Netanyahu for the decision is simply not acceptable. Americans — and especially American politicians — need to wake up to the fact that Israel is not a democracy and its treatment of Tlaib and Omar is just another example of why.
I hope that Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar do get to see Bethlehem one day. InshAllah it will be free when they do.
Reina Sultan (she/her) is a Lebanese-American Muslim woman working on gender and conflict issues at her nine to five. A California native, she enjoys the beach, the sun, and complaining about the weather in D.C., where she now lives. Reina is passionate about smashing the patriarchy and eating the rich. Her work can also be found in Huffington Post, Rewire.News, and Rantt. Following @SultanReina on Twitter will provide you with endless hot takes and photos of Reina’s extremely cute cats.